The Christians under Turkish Rule – Dr. Matti Moosa

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More than any other Muslim writer, Ibn al-Athir has discussed the character and achievements of Nur al-Din Zangi, who he says died from al-khawaniq (angina) in 1173-74.[46] Ibn al-Athir says he read the history of the rulers before and after Islam and found no sovereign except al-Khulafa al-Rashidun (the Rightly Guided Caliphs) and the Umayyad Caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (reigned 717-720) to be more praiseworthy for his conduct, justice, and fairness than al-Malik al-Adil Nur al-Din. He lauds Nur al-Din for his indifference to worldly things and for his strict adherence to Islamic law, devotion and piety, adding that he spent long hours in prayer, even at midnight and early morning. He was a very strict Muslim who practiced the rules of the Muslim faith seriously. A part of his faith was Jihad (holy war), for which he was called to make Islam triumph. He was a Sunnite of the Hanafite school, but without prejudice against Muslims of other schools. He was abstemious in his food, simple in his dress, and chaste in sexual matters. He glorified the Islamic Shari’a (law), which impacted his work and conduct. Ibn al-Athir goes on to enumerate Nur al-Din’s achievements, like the establishment of Dar al-Adl (The House of Justice) in Damascus, the building of schools in Aleppo, Hama, and Damascus not only for the Sunnites but also for the Shafiites, and the founding of a great hospital in Damascus where rich and poor Muslim people were treated alike. He also built inns and lodges for the Sufis and homes for the orphans, staffed by men who taught the Quran. The most famous of the many mosques he built is the one that bore his name, al-Jami al-Nuri (The Nuri Mosque) in Mosul, with the tallest minaret in the whole Muslim world, known today as al-Jami al-Kabir (the Great Mosque).[47] In brief, if one follows Ibn al-Athir, he will conclude that Nur al-Din Zangi was “the most ideal Muslim” in every respect. His domain extended far and wide, from Mosul to all of Syria, Egypt, and Yemen.[48]
But Ibn al-Athir shows a dark side of Nur al-Din Zangi’s character in discussing his treatment of the Christians. He says “Nur al-Din (May God have mercy on his soul)” used a great deal of trickery, duplicity, and deception in dealing with the Franks, and thus was able to control most of the regions they had formerly held. An example of his stratagem is what he did to the Armenian Malih (Mleh), son of Leo I, Roupenid ruler of Cilicia (1173-1175). He kept deceiving, coaxing him and offering him estates until he won him over and used him to fight against the Franks,.the Byzantines, and even his own people. Supported by Nur al-Din, Malih captured the major cities of Adana, Mamistra (al-Mississa) and Tarsus in Cilicia in 1173 and defeated the Byzantine forces, killing many. He sent thirty of their leaders as prisoners and plenty of booty to Nur al-Din, who in turn sent some of them along with the booty to the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustadi bi Amr Allah (1170-1180) with a letter informing him of the victory, because some of the caliph’s troops had participated in it. Asked why he dealt with Malih as he did, Nur al-Din said that he used him to fight against his own people and to stop him from challenging his (Nur al-Din’s) troops.[49] The Armenian writer K. L. Astarjian says that Malih had a bad upbringing which affected his life and behavior. He vacillated between several religions and at one time joined the Templars, but then turned against them. Malih embraced Islam before he became involved with Nur al-Din Zangi, who influenced him to invade Cilicia and conspire against his own brother Thoros.[50]
To William of Tyre, Malih was a most wicked man. When his brother Thoros II died in 1168, the nobles chose Thomas, a nephew of Thoros and Malih on his sister’s side, as administrator of Thoros’s principality. Thomas was well-born but totally unqualified for this position, and Malih, taking advantage of his weakness, quickly seized control of the principality. To buttress his power, he betrayed his own people and defected to Nur al-Din Zangi and offered him allegiance. Nur al-Din welcomed this renegade and, on well-defined terms favorable to himself, provided Malih with a sizable cavalry force. Malih was the first of his [Armenian] people to violate the customs of his ancestors. He not only invaded and occupied the major cities of Cilicia, but also dispossessed the Knights Templar of their holdings there, although at one time he had belonged to their order. He formed an alliance with Nur al-Din and the Turks, on terms appropriate for brothers. By his actions, says William, he rejected the law of God and did immense injury to the Christians. Realizing that Malih and Nur al-Din repesented a great danger to their domains, King Amalric I of Jerusalem (1163-1174) and the governor of Antioch joined forces to fight Malih. Amalric sent several envoys to Malih asking to meet and discuss the situation with him, but without success. War became inevitable. No sooner did he march against Malih in Cilicia than reports reached him that Nur al-Din had attacked Petra in Arabia Secunda. As Amalric and the Franks continued to drive toward Cilicia, however, another messenger brought word that Nur al-Din, who apparently was not yet in a position to challenge the Franks, had abandoned the siege.[51]
The Syriac sources partly agree with this account. They say that before Thoros II, governor of Cilicia, died in 1168, he gave instructions that his youngest son (apparently under age) was to succeed him, and Thomas, the son of his aunt, should serve as his administrator. Deprived of the chance to succeed his brother, Malih became furious and contacted Nur al-Din, who supplied him with an army of Turks. He attacked and ravaged Cilicia, capturing 16,000 youths and maidens, men and women, and monks and bishops, and carried them to Aleppo; there he sold them to merchants and gave the proceeds to the Turks who had supported him. Hoping to appease him, the Armenians of Cilicia met with him and offered him half the country. Malih accepted the offer and assured them under oath that the other half would go to Thoros’s young son, but soon he broke his oath and took possession of all Cilicia, with its towns and fortresses. He then took his vengeance on his opponents. He gouged the eyes of many bishops and governors and cut off their hands and feet. He flayed others alive and cast their bodies to wild animals.[52] When Amalric learned of Malih’s ill treatment of the Christians, he came to fight against him. Malih sought the Turks’ help, but the king routed them and Malih sought refuge in his fortress. When the king besieged the fortress, he began to feel pain. Finally, he repented and apologized for his bad deeds, swore an oath of fealty to the king, and promised never to join the Turks.[53] Malih’s end came in 1175, when his army commanders revolted against him because of his abominable deeds. He left his camp at night and fled to one of his fortresses. The guards, who were in collusion with the army leaders, captured Malih, cut him into pieces, and threw him to the dogs. They brought his cousin Roupen, son of Stephen, who had been hiding in Tarsus out of fear of Malih, and installed him as their king. As soon as he took power, however, Roupen retaliated by killing those who had murdered Malih, on the pretext that they had treated him cruelly.[54]
The Anonymous Edessan’s view of Nur al-Din is similar to that of Ibn al-Athir. He says that Nur al-Din was a schemer, cunning, and very strict in observing Islamic laws. It is said that he neither drank wine nor allowed others to do so. He banned the singing, merriment and dancing enjoyed by other Muslim sovereigns. It is even said that no one heard him laugh. He ate alone, and only once a day. He was not lecherous, nor did he marry many women, as was the reprehensible custom of the Muslim sovereigns. He wore simple dress, fasted constantly, and read the Quran. He acted with justice and offered alms to poor Muslims and even to pious Christians. He persisted in strengthening Islamic laws and customs in the countries he had conquered, and abolished all taxes and excises in the countries under his control. And if he learned that an injustice had been done, he was quick to compensate the victim. He never punished anyone without a trial and reliable testimony. His camp was free from rowdiness, frivolous play, and clamor.[55]
But the Anonymous Edessan, Michael Rabo, and William of Tyre show this Turkish ruler in an unfavorable light when they describe his treatment of the native Christians. William of Tyre says that Nur al-Din was a just prince, valiant and wise, and a religious man according to the traditions of his people, but also a persecutor of the Christian name and faith.[56] Michael Rabo and the Anonymous Edessan show that the Christians suffered greatly from Nur al-Din’s oppression and persecution. When his brother Qutb al-Din Mawdud, lord of Mosul died in 1170, he went to take control of the city and instigated the Muslim jurists against the Christians, whom his brother had treated kindly. He was extremely strict about observing the times of prayer and not drinking wine, and was so devoted to observing the tenets of Islam that the Muslims nicknamed him “al-Nabi” (The Prophet), because he believed that he was like Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. He even expected Allah to talk to him face to face, as he did to Moses. Some of the Muslims who mocked him for his belief and called him a “prophet” sarcastically told him that he, being a divine personage, had appeared to them in the masjid, and he believed them.[57]
To endear himself more to the Muslims, Nur al-Din hardened his heart against the Christians and ordered that new Christian churches and monasteries be demolished. When he reached the city of Nisibin, the Muslims clamored that the Christians were restoring their churches, and he ordered them destroyed. The Muslims pulled down the wall of the Great Church of St. Jacob of Nisibin, which had been held by the Nestorians since the fifth century (when Iraq was part of the Persian empire), and stole religious articles and about a thousand books. They did the same thing to churches elsewhere. Because Nur al-Din hated the Christians, says Michael Rabo, he appointed one of his relatives, Ibn Asrun, as judge and sent him throughout Syria to demolish every new addition to the churches built in the time of his father and his brother. Everywhere he went, Ibn Asrun asked the Christians for a bribe. If he received it, he would swear that the buildings added to the church were old, thus saving it from destruction; otherwise, he ordered it demolished. When Nur al-Din learned what Ibn Asrun had done, he fired him. Meanwhile, encouraged by his oppression of the Christians, the Muslims of Mardin usurped the Church of the Forty Martyrs.[58]
From Nisibin, Nur al-Din marched to capture Sinjar, north of Mosul, and then laid siege to Mosul itself.[59] When he reached the city, the Kurds who lived in the neighborhood of the Monastery of Mar Matta (today called the Monastery of Shaykh Matti, 25 kilometers northeast of Mosul), having heard that Nur al-Din was oppressing the Christians, seized the opportunity to destroy the monastery. They attacked it at night, but the monks, who were ready to repel them, destroyed their ladders and even killed some of the marauders. The Kurds then attacked the monastery in daylight, but the Syrians in the neighboring villages came to its aid and drove them away. The Kurds finally resorted to trickery and made a false peace with the monks, who paid them thirty dinars as a sign of their peaceful intention. The monks fell into the trap and told the villagers to go home. As they were leaving, the Kurds immediately gathered on top of the mountain and rolled down a huge rock that hit the monastery wall, creating an opening close to the aqueduct leading to the monastery’s cistern. (The rock is still lodged in the wall of the monastery, as this author has personally observed during several visits there.) The monks immediately filled the opening with stones and lime, but the Kurds attacked them with arrows; as they retreated, the Kurds unsheathed their swords and chased them inside, killing fifteen of them.[60] The monks, few in number, were no match for the 1500 Kurds; only those who had taken refuge in the monastery’s upper citadel escaped death. The Kurds pillaged the monastery, carried off whatever they could load onto their beasts, and left. After they had gone, the monks in the citadel removed the rest of the books and religious objects and went to Mosul. The Monastery of Mar Matta was desolate, and the monks would not dare to live in it. The Syrians of Mosul hired men and paid them thirty dinars to guard and prevent the Kurds from doing more damage. On learning what the Kurds had done to the monastery, the governor of Mosul sent troops out and killed a great number of them. In retaliation, the Kurds destroyed nine villages in the Nestorian district, looted and burned the houses, and killed their inhabitants.[61] The Anonymous Edessan adds that the Kurds also attacked the Monastery of Mar Sergius (also called al-Mu’allaq Monastery) in the Barren Mountain.[62]
When Nur al-Din Zangi occupied Mosul, it was ruled by Sayf al-Din Ghazi II, the son of his brother Qutb al-Din Mawdud who had originally chosen his son Imad al-Din to succeed him as atabeg of Mosul, but then changed his mind and designated his younger son, named for his uncle, Sayf al-Din Ghazi I (d. 1149). This change was made through the machinations of the eunuch Fakhr al-Din Abd al-Masih, the tutor of Qutb al-Din’s children. Although he was a Christian from the province of Antioch, he pretended to be a Muslim. He plotted with Khatun, the daughter of Husam al-Din Timurtash and mother of Sayf al-Din, to have her son replace Imad al-Din as lord of Mosul. On learning of the conspiracy, Imad al-Din asked his uncle Nur al-Din for help in reclaiming the governorship. According to Ibn al-Athir, Nur al-Din not only disparaged Fakhr al-Din Abd al-Masih for his injustice, but detested him both for his part in the conspiracy and for his Christian faith. Abd al-Masih offended the Muslims of Mosul because he loved the Christians and helped them. Others say Nur al-Din tried to subjugate Mosul because of his jealousy of Abd al-Masih, who administered the city so wisely and capably that Sayf al-Din was governor only in name.[63]
Realizing that the people of Mosul would not resist Nur al-Din’s attack because they were inclined toward him, Abd al-Masih sent emissaries to sue for peace. According to Ibn al-Athir (and Bar Hebraeus, who appears to follow him), Abd al-Masih demanded a pledge of safety for his own life and a promise that Nur al-Din would not usurp power from his nephew. Nur al-Din replied that he had come not to snatch the city or the kingdom from his brother’s sons, but to save the people from the authority of Abd al-Masih; he pledged to spare Abd al-Masih but said he would expel him from Mosul. Peace then prevailed, and Nur al-Din entered Mosul. He took quarters in the citadel and appointed another eunuch, Sa’d al-Din Gümüshtigin, to administer the city’s affairs. But he left the government of the city and the whole province of Mosul to his nephew Sayf al-Din Ghazi II, and after seventeen days he departed for Syria. He took Fakhr al-Din Abd al-Masih with him, but changed his name from Abd al-Masih (Servant of Christ) to Abd Allah (Servant of Allah) and offered him a generous living allowance.[64]
When Nur al-Din Zangi was in Mosul, says Michael Rabo, he “was intoxicated with vainglory because the Muslims considered him a prophet.”[65] He oppressed the Christians by introducing new measures against them. He burdened them with taxes and the jizya. He ordered them to wear sashes around their waists and not to grow their hair long, so that they could be distinguished from the Muslims (making them the object of mockery). He ordered that the Byzantine Christians wear a red patch on their shoulders, to distinguish them from other people.[66] He also ordered that no Christian should ride a saddled horse or mule. He expelled all Christian secretaries from government departments and from the governor’s court except Deacon Abdun, a wealthy old man known for his wisdom and knowledge. Soon after Nur al-Din left Mosul, however, the Christians were relieved from his iniquitous measures through the magnanimity of his nephew, the good governor Sayf al-Din Ghazi II (atabeg of Mosul, 1170-1176).[67]
To enhance his standing among the Muslims, Nur al-Din used every conceivable method to humiliate the Christians. He became more arrogant, especially after capturing Syria, Egypt and Athur (northern Iraq). Michael Rabo says Nur al-Din acted as if he had conquered the whole earth and tried through various measures to denigrate the Christians so that the Muslims would regard him as their Imam (religious leader). As if instigated by Satan, Nur al-Din wrote to the caliph (the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustanjid, 1160-1170), “The words of the Prophet Muhammad in the Quran, indicating that the Muslims should do no harm to the Christians for five hundred years, have become invalid because of the passage of those years. Therefore, it is imperative to annihilate the Christians in the regions under the influence of the Muslims. Any Christian who refuses to embrace Islam should be killed.”[68] He also expressed his desire to have an audience with the caliph to explain further the letter’s contents. The letter scared the caliph, who thought Nur al-Din’s intention was to deceive him, capture Baghdad, and become caliph in his place. The caliph, all the more suspicious because he knew that Nur al-Din fancied himself a prophet, did not respond to his initiatives.
When al-Mustanjid died, he was succeeded by his son al-Mustadi (1170-1180), who had his Vizir killed because he hated the Christians. Much to the relief of the Christians, the new caliph was favorably disposed toward them, as if to spite the Vizir. As a sign of his tolerance, the caliph released the Syrian dignitaries of the Tuma family, who had been detained by his father, and restored their homes and churches to them. The released Syrians told the caliph how his father had discovered the deception of Nur al-Din and rejected his emissaries. The new caliph wrote to Nur al-Din, “You have no right to pretend to be a prophet and enact laws like Allah. You have misunderstood the true words of Muhammad regarding the years. Allah did not order us to kill people without cause.”[69] After receiving this message, Nur al-Din Zangi felt ashamed and sent other messengers asking the caliph to let him visit his father’s tomb. The caliph, knowing his real intention was to occupy Baghdad, rejected this request and even threatened to challenge him if he did so. His action certainly favored the Christians, whom Nur al-Din hated. To Michael Rabo, it was a divine action showing that God had not forgotten His people. Doleful but thankful, he wrote, “Although God had caused the Muslim Arabs and Turks to rule over us because of our sins, He did not for one day deny us His mercy, but always protected us from our haters and showed mercy to His church.”[70]
Nur al-Din Zangi’s persecution of the Christians appears to have encouraged other Muslim rulers to usurp Christian churches. In 1170 the eunuch Mu’ayyid al-Din, governor of Mardin, appropriated the nave of the Syrian Church of the Forty Martyrs and gave it to the Muslims, who annexed it to their mosque. The next day he fell off his mount and felt guilty, believing that his fall was a divine punishment for what he had done to the church. He wanted to restore the nave to the church, but did not for fear of offending the Muslims.[71] This incident was followed the same year by another, no less grievous to the Christians, involving a monk, Hasan bar Kulaib (or Kumaib) of the Abkar Monastery in the Mountain of Mardin.[72] A conflict apparently arose involving him, his two brothers (also monks), and other inmate monks of the monastery over his bad conduct, for which Hasan bar Kulaib was stripped of his position as a monk. In a fit of anger, he embraced Islam and fled to Jerusalem, where he felt guilty and returned to Christianity. The governor of Mardin arrested his two brothers and the other monks, who were tortured to death. The Muslims of Mardin used his conversion to Islam as a pretext to capture the Abkar Monastery and convert it to a masjid for the use of Muslim Kurds.[73] In 1172, the Muslims of Mardin also seized the Syrian Church of St. Thomas after a Syrian man named Barsoum committed adultery with a Muslim woman. He was arrested and tortured almost to death, and his possessions were confiscated. Because Barsoum had renovated the Church of St. Thomas at his own expense in the time of the governor Husam al-Din, the Muslims, arguing that the church was his personal property, claimed it and converted it into a mosque. The Christians of Mardin, grieved to the extent that they blasphemed against divine justice, tried to reclaim the church, but their action angered the Muslims more against them. They lodged a complaint and asked the governor to restore their church to them, but his heart was hardened and he rejected their complaint, thus creating more aggravation and pressure for the Christians.[74]
Not surprisingly, Nur al-Din’s death in May 1174 brought feelings of relief not only to the Christians, but to Muslim rulers who were discontented with his strict observance of the Islamic law, particularly because he forbade them to drink wine or engage in any kind of merriment.[75] The chief reaction to Nur al-Din’s death came from his nephew Sayf al-Din Ghazi II, who occupied Nisibin and abrogated the laws enacted by his uncle. Al-Isfahani says he destroyed the place in the mosque where Nur al-Din had inscribed the restrictive laws and allowed the public drinking of wine.[76] It is more plausible that, as the Anonymous Edessan says, Sayf al-Din destroyed the stone tablet over the door of the masjid of Nisibin, on which Nur al-Din had inscribed his instructions including the anathemas on those who violated them. Also, although he allowed public consumption of wine, he restored the poll and land taxes that his uncle had abolished. Shortly after Nur al-Din Zangi died, the Muslims demolished the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Edessa. They used some of the stones to rebuild the city’s wall and fortress, but carried most of them away to build a masjid in Harran. The Muslims also tore down the northern part of the Great Church of the Apostles (the part left intact later fell down) and carried the stone to the fortress. At the same time, they tore down the chancel of the Church of St. Stephen and the chancel of the Church of Forty Martyrs, which was adjacent to their masjid.[77]
Although Sayf al-Din Ghazi seems to have been more tolerant than Nur al-Din, the Christians were still harassed by the Turks, whose rulers were clearly partial to the Muslims and frequently interfered in the religious or ecclesiastical affairs of the church, as Michael Rabo relates firsthand. As patriarch, Michael Rabo was often opposed by rebellious and recalcitrant bishops and clergy who could not abide his strict observance of the church’s canon laws. When he was called to serve as patriarch, he says, he felt it his duty to respect and defend holy laws against accepting a bribe to ordain a clergyman or usurping a diocese or congregation because of the influence of a political ruler, laws which had been violated or ignored. For this reason he was opposed by several bishops, including Iwannis Denha of al-Raqqa (Callinicus), whose congregation had lost confidence in him because of alleged misconduct and wanted him replaced. The patriarch convened a council at the Monastery of Mar Hananya (now the Za’faran Monastery near Mardin in Turkey) to consider the case. After the testimony, the council was convinced of the bishops irreligious actions and decided to confine him to a monastery for three years until he improved his conduct. Denha at first accepted the council’s verdict, but then went to Mardin to complain to Nestorian leaders against Patriarch Michael Rabo. When the Nestorians learned the truth about his case, they expelled him.
Bishop Denha then turned to Najm al-Din, the Muslim governor of Mardin, and offered him a bribe to have Michael Rabo killed. The governor sent some men who arrested the patriarch and made him appear before the governor as a criminal, accompanied only by Abu Kir, archdeacon of the church of Mardin. The governor addressed the patriarch harshly but, after hearing the case, expelled Bishop Denha and dismissed his complaint. The bishop, still determined to spite the patriarch, went to Mosul and slandered Patriarch Michael Rabo to Sayf al-Din, the lord of Mosul, promising to pay him a thousand dinars. Soldiers arrested Michael Rabo and brought him to Sayf al-Din, who was then in Nisibin. The soldiers ushered the patriarch, together with two bishops and a number of monks, into the presence of Sayf al-Din’s deputy, who said, “Since Allah has placed you [the Christians] under our control, you should not resist the royal decree. You should fulfill the royal order of the victorious king (Sayf al-Din), or else you will be humiliated and tortured. Our king has ordered that this bishop should have jurisdiction over the dioceses of al-Raqqa, Harran, Saruj, and Habura (al-Khabur). Accordingly, you should return peacefully to your place or something harmful will take place.”
Michael Rabo courageously answered that divine laws are instituted by three Books: the Torah (Old Testament) of the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Christians, and the Quran of the Muslims. He asked the deputy to search these three books and see for himself if God had ordered the rulers to administer the countries by their worldly authority. Faith, he contended, should be administered by choice and not by compulsion. He declared that the just Muslim rulers who came after Muhammad had to the present day observed the interdicts of God and never violated them. According to the command of God, these rulers imposed on the Christians the jizya (poll tax) and obedience, but they did not interfere in matters of faith. “If you try to alter the course followed by former Muslim rulers,” he added, “then know that what you do is not against me but against Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. You would violate their Books, or in other words you would be violating the commands of God.” Worse still, he said, the deputy believed Bishop Denha’s complaints against him. If he would do more investigation, he would easily find they were lies. In fact, the dioceses which the deputy said were in the bishop’s jurisdiction were still under the control of Sayf al-Din Ghazi II. Said Michael Rabo, “If he (the bishop) was appointed by your order, why then he is rejected by their congregations? He has committed a crime against our laws and resorted to your royal authority to force me to violate the laws of God. I would rather have my head cut off than step on these laws.” At this point he extended his neck and told the deputy to cut off his head. The deputy entered Sayf al-Din’s tent, then came out and led the patriarch into his presence, forbidding anyone to accompany him. When Michael Rabo stood before Sayf al-Din, he invoked God’s blessing on him. The deputy said, “O patriarch, ask God’s blessing because Sayf al-Din Ghazi has ordered that your laws should be executed, and no one will disobey you.” Michael Rabo repeated his blessing and thanks, then left with tears in his eyes. The bishops and monks were jubilant, while the slanderer (Bishop Iwannis Denha) was disappointed.
Persisting in his evildoing, the bishop tried another tactic to have Michael Rabo condemned. He shouted in the midst of the Muslim throng, “Know all of you that this old man is a deceiver. He is laboring in the lands of the Muslims to convert them to Christianity, and here is the evidence.” The bishop began to read a letter Michael Rabo had written about the monk Hasan bar Kulaib, who had converted to Islam. The Muslims, greatly agitated by it, tried to stone the patriarch. The monks with him fled, and he stood alone before the Muslims carrying stones in their hands to kill him. By chance some Muslims from Mardin, the city of Hasan bar Kulaib, were present and testified that he was a Christian monk, not a Muslim. The angry crowd apparently believed them and let the patriarch go in peace. Sayf al-Din Ghazi II provided him with a letter of authority and the patriarch returned to his place safe. But this was not the end of the wickedness of Bishop Iwannis Denha. He went to Baghdad and lodged a complaint with the Abbasid caliph, but Patriarch Michael Rabo wrote to the Syrian believers in Baghdad about the case, and the caliph expelled Bishop Denha. The bishop returned to Antioch, where he met with Patriarch Michael Rabo and asked his forgiveness. In a true gesture of Christian love, the patriarch accepted the bishop’s apology and sent him to the Edessan Mountain to await appointment to an available diocese.[78]
Michael Rabo relates another episode involving clergymen who from sheer avarice turned to earthly (i.e., Muslim) rulers to oppress their own Syrian people and achieve their goals. The antagonist in this case was Ignatius, the avaricious bishop of Tur Abdin, who obtained money through various means. Michael Rabo admonished him to abandon his unworthy behavior and adhere to the laws of the church, but he did not lobey. One Sunday morning he left the worship service and went to the governor, as was his custom, asking him to throw into prison monks, priests, and laymen on a variety of charges. That night, a group of Kurds captured him and beat him badly, but his companions managed to flee. Not satisfied with merely beating him, the Kurds drove a stake into his buttocks and left him near death. Some passersby found him, and as they pulled the stake from his bottom he died. It is said that he was responsible for the deaths of a number of Syrian believers, but it is not known whether they were killed by Ignatius himself or by those whom he had instigated.[79] His case clearly shows that there were renegade and outright immoral clergymen within the church who oppressed their own people, as did their worldly rulers. It also shows the sad state of the patriarchs of the Syrian Church, who had to struggle to save their church and authority not only from the Muslim Turks and their rulers, but from bishops and other clergy whose immoral and evil actions aggravated their situation and weakened the church’s spiritual authority.
The men who created particular difficulty for Patriarch Michael Rabo by seeking the aid of Muslim rulers against him were Theodore bar Wahbun and Karim bar Masih. Theodore was a native of Melitene, the son of the priest Sohda bar Wahbun. His godfather, the patriarch, brought him to the Monastery of Mar Barsoum, made him his personal secretary, and treated him with kindness and love. At the monastery, Theodore proved to be an avid reader, acquiring profound secular and spiritual knowledge, but he lacked spiritual wisdom and particularly the fear of God. He was rebellious and arrogant, with an inflated ego because of his knowledge.[80] Blinded by false pride and ambition, Theodore turned against his benefactor, seeking to usurp the office of the patriarchate. To achieve this goal he resorted to treachery, manipulation, and bribery of Muslim governors. In 1180 he plotted to split the church with the aid of some bishops who were displeased with the patriarch for his strict implementation of canon laws, which they had violated. Theodore bar Wahbun tried to stir trouble in Melitene, but the congregation had him expelled from the city. He fled to Edessa and then to Jerusalem, inciting the congregations against the patriarch. He failed at this, but succeeded in convincing four bishops to help him become a patriarch. They contacted the governor of Amid, Abu al-Qasim Hasan (Abu al-Qasim Nisan, according to Bar Hebraeus), and offered him money if he would help them to install Theodore as patriarch. The governor was ready not only to violate the canons of the Christian church, which he did not respect or understand, but to violate the laws of Islam for money. Shortly afterwards, he invited Bar Wahbun to become patriarch. Bishop Ibrahim of Amid, who had been removed from his diocese for violating church laws, was to deliver the invitation, disguised as a Turkish officer, but his mission failed due to the sudden death of the governor, who was succeeded by his son.[81] The rebellious bishops called on the new governor and showed him the invitation his father had sent, offering him more money if he would help make Bar Wahbun patriarch. The bishops’ action enraged the Syrian congregation of Amid, who told the new governor, “We will never permit our faith to be destroyed.” He replied, “If your patriarch visits us, we will expel Bar Wahbun.” After the congregation invited the patriarch, he agreed to go to Amid and meet with the governor, but the subsequent evil action of his opponents disturbed him and the church. As the patriarch left the Monastery of Mar Barsoum to travel to Amid, the rebellious bishops entered the church in Mardin, locked the doors, and ordained Theodore bar Wahbun as patriarch in a night service. In the morning they disguised themselves in different clothing and left for Mosul to meet with the Maphrian Mar Yuhanna.[82]
Karim Bar Masih had a hand in the ordination of Bar Wahbun. Bar Masih came to Mardin, the seat of the patriarch’s diocese, and usurped it by offering gold to the governor. He invited Theodore to Mardin and proclaimed him patriarch, even though he had been condemned not only by the patriarch and his clergy, but by the maphrian and the clergy of the East. Upon hearing of Bar Masih’s action, the Syrians of Mardin, together with the monks of the neighboring monasteries, notably the Monastery of Mar Hananya (Za’faran Monastery), appealed to Patriarch Michael Rabo to appoint a bishop for them. The patriarch chose a learned and articulate monk named Modyana (Confessor), from the Edessan mountain, and ordained him as bishop of Mardin. But the new bishop, unable to become an officer of the church without the governor’s approval, was forced to offer the governor the same amount of gold Bar Wahbun had offered him to obtain his investiture as a bishop.[83]
In Mosul, Theodore Bar Wahbun and his collaborators asked the Maphrian Mar Yuhanna (d. 1189) to approve Bar Wahbun as patriarch, but he refused. Disappointed, the conspirators traveled aimlessly from place to place. At the town of Dara, between Nisibin and Mardin, the leading Syrian dignitaries urged them to forsake their machinations and obey the patriarch (Michael Rabo). After learning that the conspirators were in Dara, the Maphrian Yuhanna and some bishops went there, captured them, and brought them to the patriarch in chains. At a council convened by the patriarch, they admitted their guilt in writing and asked his forgiveness. Soon, however, Theodore Bar Wahbun, violating his promise to forsake his evil ways, resorted again to deception. Some of his allies hired ruffian Kurds to hide him at night until the patriarch had left the Monastery of Mar Barsoum, where the council met. The patriarch convened another council which also condemned Bar Wahbun, but he refused to leave the monastery, asking instead for forgiveness. The meek, compassionate patriarch accepted Theodore’s false apology, allotted him a cell at the monastery for his residence, and promised to ask the council to reconsider his condemnation. But no sooner did the patriarch leave to go to the Monastery of Mar Hananya than some other rebellious monks helped Bar Wahbun escape by lowering him in a basket from the monastery’s wall. He fled to Damascus, where he approached Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) and offered him money to proclaim him as patriarch in the regions under his authority. He even wrote a letter slandering the patriarch, hoping that Saladin would destroy him. When the letter was read to him, Saladin inquired about Theodore and, after learning from some Christian believers in his service about his odious conduct, had him expelled.
Frustrated, Theodore Bar Wahbun went to Jerusalem and began stirring trouble between the Franks and the Syrian minority, especially against Metropolitan Athanasius, who had been chosen to head the diocese of Jerusalem in 1184. Athanasius already had strained relations with the Franks because of a dispute over the Monastery of Mary Magdalene, which belonged to the Syrians but had been usurped by the Franks.[84] He had offered the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem a thousand dinars to return the monastery to the Syrians. The Syrian Church endured deplorable hardships because of the ownership dispute, which was further prolonged because of the Muslims’ occupation of Jerusalem. Bar Wahbun then went to Mardin and Mosul, where he offered bribes to the Turkish governor and his associates, hoping they would proclaim him a patriarch. His action encouraged Muslim governors everywhere to demand money for their help. Next, he turned to the Armenian Catholicos (Gregory IV, 1173-1193), then residing in the Qal’at Romaitha, asking his assistance as he had done with the Latin patriarch in Jerusalem. The catholicos, believing Theodore’s false promises, expelled the Syrian bishop from his diocese and placed the Syrians of Cilicia under his authority, and Theodore Bar Wahbun dared to call himself patriarch. He continued his actions against Patriarch Michael Rabo and lavished enormous amounts of money and gifts on the Turkish governors in Syria and Beth Nahrin, hoping they too would declare him patriarch. Bar Wahbun’s efforts were frustrated when his principal supporter, Catholicos Gregory, died in 1193, and his machinations ended when he died forty days later.[85]
The death of the miscreant Theodore Bar Wahbun brought some relief to Patriarch Michael Rabo and his church, but he had still to deal with Karim Bar Masih, a monk from the Monastery of Mar Matta. Karim bar Masih belonged to the family of Jabir, which was originally from Takrit but, like many Syrian Takritians, had settled in Mosul. Rebellious and ambitious, he was as much a troublemaker as Bar Wahbun, whose ordination as patriarch he had supported in 1192. Mosul had a Muslim judge named Muhyi al-Din whom the governor greatly respected, and whose advice he always heeded (the governor’s lieutenants hated him, but did not dare harm him). Judge Muhyi al-Din was in charge of collecting the tribute imposed on all the monasteries and their properties, including the Monastery of Mar Matta. After Maphrian Yuhanna died in 1189, Bar Masih, hoping to succeed him, sought the aid of this judge to achieve this goal. He took a boat down the Tigris to Takrit, the maphrian’s seat, to usurp the See of the Maphrianate.[86] The archimandrite and some monks of the Monastery of Mar Matta, some Syrian Takritian leaders from Mosul, and four bishops (Ignatius Gabriel Yuhanna bar Hindi, bishop of Urmia in Azerbaijan, Yuhanna Ruwad Marqia, bishop of Ba’arbaya, Saliba, bishop of the Monastery of Mar Matta, and Basilius Matta bar Shuwayk, bishop of Baghdad) wrote in support of Bar Masih and brought him to the patriarch to be ordained a maphrian. But other clerics, including the priest Abu Mansur Bar Tibun and the monks Yaqub and Shamtah of the Monastery of Mar Matta, wrote to the patriarch that Bar Masih was an insolent person who had surrounded himself with a band of wicked men.[87] Michael Rabo says that the Syrian congregations of Mosul and Takrit had informed him that they would never accept him as their maphrian because of his immoral conduct. The patriarch, who had also heard about Bar Masih’s conduct from the late Maphrian Yuhanna, felt he had to find a suitable person for this high office. To foil the plan of Bar Masih and his collaborators, the clergymen prevailed on the patriarch to choose his nephew Yaqub, a learned and venerable man who was ordained a maphrian at the Monastery of Saint Dumit in the province of Mardin in 1189, taking the name Gregorius.[88] When the other bishops, whom Michael Rabo calls “the gang of Bar Masih,” learned that their plan had failed, they bribed the governor, who issued an order naming Karim Bar Masih as maphrian.[89] At the Monastery of Mar Matta, they ordained Bar Masih a maphrian and named him Dionysius.[90]
But things did not turn out as Bar Masih had wished, for judge Muhyi al-Din died soon afterwards. The Christians of Mosul asked the eunuch Mujahid al-Din, who hated Muhyi al-Din, to help restore their lawful Maphrian Gregorius, who for two years had been barred from entering Mosul because Muhyi al-Din had subjected them to Bar Masih’s authority, in violation of church laws. Mujahid al-Din agreed to help and provided them with letters of passage and a messenger, and they sent a delegation to fetch the maphrian, then at the Monastery of Mar Hananya, and brought him to Mosul with great joy and pomp. When Bar Masih reached Takrit, the Syrian congregation rejected him and he returned to Mosul, frustrated. As soon as he arrived, the officers of the Syrian Church had him placed in their custody. The maphrian and the bishops met to discuss his case and demanded that he return all the gold he had extorted from the Syrian churches. When he did not comply, they met with the clergy and congregation in the Church of the Takritians in Mosul and defrocked him, then sent him back to prison. A year later, his brother paid four hundred dinars, and Bar Masih was freed.
Curiously, Michael Rabo says that in 1190, under pressure from his bishops, he delegated Bishop Gabriel, abbot of the Monastery of Mar Barsoum, and Bishop Abu al-Faraj, then in charge of the patriarchal office, to Sultan Salah al-Din (Saladin) to explain Bar Masih’s machinations to him. Before they reached Damascus, while Saladin was besieging Akka (Acre), the two bishops were arrested as spies and thrown into prison, losing everything in their possession. But they were rescued through the effort of Muzaffar al-Din, son of Zayn al-Din, lord of Edessa, and finally obtained letters of support from Saladin.[91]
After three years of humiliation and condemnation, Bar Masih returned to his old ways. After paying the governor of Mosul 1000 dinars, he was allowed to proclaim himself bishop of Mosul and its environs. Encouraged by the Muslim governor’s support, he donned the garb of a bishop and traveled around the province of Mosul hoping to gather followers, but failed. Meanwhile, he was hounded by his creditors, who demanded that he settle his debts. Since he had no money, he was thrown into prison and remained there for eighteen months. Out of goodness and perhaps pity, Maphrian Gregorius had him released from prison. A year after his release he was finally forced to pay his debts. At the very end of his Chronicle, Michael Rabo states that toward the end of 1194, Maphrian Gregorius and four bishops came to see him at the Monastery of Mar Barsoum and offer allegiance to him. But as soon as they returned to their dioceses, Bar Masih slandered the maphrian to the governor, stating that he had left his diocese and would never return. But when the maphrian and the bishops returned in early 1195, Bar Masih was put to shame, and the maphrian was received warmly by his flock and the governor.[92]
After Patriarch Michael Rabo died in 1199, Bar Masih caused more trouble for the church. He was imprisoned again and then released through the intercession of Maphrian Gregorius. Because he could not pay the huge debts he had incurred, he fled from Mosul to Mardin, then to Amid, and from there to Miyafarqin, where with the governor’s help he was able to become a bishop of the Syrian flock. But he was condemned by a church council and later absolved by the new Patriarch, Athanasius Saliba the Bald. On December 24, 1204, he died in Miyafarqin; he was buried by the Nestorians, who felt sorry for him after the Syrian Church refused to bury him because of his evil actions and the contention and discord he had caused within the church.[93]
Around 1175, a sharp conflict arose between the Armenians and the Turks over the Samson (Sasun) Mountain, above Miyafarqin, which the Armenians had controlled since the time of the Assyrians (some Kurds also lived in the mountain and claimed it was theirs). With the help of the governor of Miyafarqin, the Turks occupied its fortresses and expelled the Armenians, and for five years they fought the Armenians living in Miyafarqin and Mardin. The governor oppressed and starved the Armenians, forcing them to surrender the fortresses to the great Armenian lord of Khilat (Akhlat) on Lake Van, Sukman II, Nasir al-Din Muhammad (1128-1183), known as Shah Armen.[94] A miscreant Armenian lord named Bakhyan lost his share of the mountain to the Turks and sought to control one of the fortresses. The Armenians gave him several villages, but this gift was not sufficient to satisfy his ambition. He converted to Islam, thinking the Muslim Turks would offer him a fortress. Much to his disappointment, he was repulsed, and his conversion to Islam benefited him nothing.[95]
About 1201, before the death of Bar Masih, trouble arose between the Syrians of the village of Bartulli, east of Mosul, and the village’s Muslim khatib (preacher). The Anonymous Edessan says that the Syrian Christians complained against him to the village head, who had him whipped. The preacher went one Friday to the Great Mosque in Mosul (built by Nur al-Din Zangi) and provoked a disturbance against the Christians. A large mob of Muslims joined him and left the mosque to go to Bartulli and destroy it. But when they reached the city gate (Bab al-Jisr, the gate of the bridge over the River Tigris), they found it locked. Disappointed, they returned and vented their anger on the Great Church of the Syrian Takritians. They smashed its doors and sanctuary and pillaged everything inside — beautiful church vessels, splendid curtains, crosses, Gospels, golden patens and chalices, and other magnificent brass items. They broke into the office of the maphrian, who was absent, and stole his belongings. They destroyed the closets and doors, and even dug into the floor and took great quantities of provisions, including seeds and grains stored in parts of the church.[96]
The persecution of the Christian communities, particularly the Syrians of the diocese of the Monastery of Mar Matta, worsened beginning in the first quarter of the thirteenth century. The whole northern region of Iraq was a theater of conflict between the lords of Mosul, descendants of Imad al-Din Zangi, and the lords of Arbil. On his deathbed, al-Malik al-Qahir Izz al-Din Mas’ud II (reigned 1210-1218) made his freed slave Badr al-Din Lulu (1180-1259) the administrator for his ten-year-old son Nur al-Din Arslan Shah II (1218-1219), who succeeded him as atabeg of Mosul; he gave the citadels of ‘Aqra and Shush to his younger son, Imad al-Din, who later made Aqra the seat of his government.[97] Because of Nur al-Din’s tender age, his uncle Imad al-Din tried to gain control of his state. The able administrator, Badr al-Din Lulu, obtained from the Abbasid Caliph al-Nasir li Din Allah (1180-1225) a patent of investiture for Nur al-Din, but he still had to face the ambitious Imad al-Din, who was supported by Muzaffar al-Din Kukburi, lord of Arbil.[98] Nur al-Din died in 1219 and was succeeded by his brother Nasir al-Din Mahmud, then only three years old.
After the death of Nasir al-Din in 1233, Muzaffar al-Din and Imad al-Din attacked the fortress of Imadiyya in northern Iraq, and Badr al-Din Lulu had his hands full trying to repel their forces and protect his state. This conflict seriously impacted the lives and safety of the Christians in the region. In the battle against Muzaffar al-Din Kukburi, Badr al-Din fled to Mosul and then to Balad, hoping to gather sufficient troops. Muzaffar al-Din chased after him and camped behind the hill of the fortress of Nineveh, but when he saw that Badr al-Din was about to crush him, he departed for Arbil.[99] While he was on his way there, some Kurds of Shahrzur in his company kidnaped a Syrian Christian bride from the village of Beth Sakhraya (today called Basakhra). The villagers pursued the Kurds, killed some of them, and freed the kidnaped bride. When Muzaffar al-Din heard of this he became furious, especially when he learned that the villagers had disgraced themselves and honored his enemy by shouting, “Long live the staff of gold, Badr al-Din!” In his anger, he sent troops who attacked the village of Beth Sakhraya and killed 300 villagers who had taken refuge in its church. Then the troops marched to the village of Bartulli and cut off the hands of young men with their swords.[100] In 1220 some chiefs of the Yezidis (known today as the Devil Worshipers) in the villages north of Mosul rebelled against Badr al-Din Lulu and plundered the village of Jabbara in the region of Nineveh, whose inhabitants were Syrian Christians, and killed its men, women and children.[101]
After the death of Nasir al-Din Mahmud, Badr al-Din Lulu became the atabeg of Mosul.[102] At his death in 1259, he was succeeded by his son al-Malik al-Salih Isma’il (reigned1259-1261). In 1261, the Christians of Mosul and the province of Nineveh suffered tragedy when al-Malik al-Salih Isma’il, accompanied by Kurds, decided to force the Christians of the province of Nineveh to plunder and kill other Christians. His plan was foiled by Shams al-Din ibn Yunus of Bashiqa, who alerted the people of the province to the forthcoming danger and urged them to leave with him for Arbil. Many Christians believed him and departed to Arbil on the Thursday evening of Pentecost. On learning of the their departure, al-Malik al-Salih Isma’il changed his mind and abandoned the idea of slaughtering them, but in the confusion, the Kurds in Mosul attacked the Christians, plundering their possessions and killing everyone who refused to embrace Islam. A great majority of priests, deacons, and dignitaries converted to Islam to save their lives as the Kurds ravaged the country outside Nineveh, killing and robbing Christians. They attacked a convent in the village of Beth Khudayda (modern Qaraqosh) and killed the Christians hiding there.[103] They assembled thousands of horsemen and footsoldiers, attacked the Monastery of Mar Matta, and made war on the monks for four months. They set up ladders, planning to scale the wall, but the monks prevailed and burned the ladders. The Kurds hewed a mass of stone from the mountain above the monastery and rolled it toward the wall. The stone split in two; each part made a breach in the wall, but one remained stuck in it. The Kurds rushed toward the monastery, but the monks and the Syrian villagers inside fought back fiercely with stones and arrows and prevented them from entering. In the foray the archimandrite Abu Nasr of Bartulli was knocked out, and a few men were wounded slightly by arrows.[104] Weary of fighting, the monks sued for peace and pledged to give the Kurds all the hangings, curtains, and equipment of the church, and to collect gold, silver and jewelry for them. The Kurds were also anxious for peace because they had heard that the Mongols were coming to invade the region. Before they departed, they took a very large amount of property from the monastery, valued at 1000 gold dinars.[105]
At that time the Syrian inhabitants of Beth Sakhraya and other natives of Nineveh took refuge in the Monastery of Mar Daniyal (St. Daniel), also known as Dayr al-Khanafis, or the Monastery of Beetles, near the village of Bartulli. But when they left it and crossed the river Zab to go to Arbil, the amir Kutulbeg accused them of coming from the side of the enemy and killed them all, men and women alike. When Sayf al-Din, lord of Jazirat ibn Umar, heard that his brother al-Malik al-Salih Isma’il had fled to Syria, he also prepared to flee. But before he fled, he rounded up the Christians and threw them into prison until they paid him 2000 gold dinars. On Ascension Day 1261, as the Christians remained in prison in a state of despair, Sayf al-Din distributed the gold among his troops, but finally 70,000 Kurds surrounded him and carried him off to Syria, and Jazirat ibn Umar was left without a lord. Two scouts, Izaz Bash and Muhammad, a captain of the guards, made themselves rulers of the region. They released the imprisoned Christians after exacting 7000 dinars from them, killing only two of them who had had communication with the Mongols.[106] Abu Nasr of Bartulli (d. 1290), who was archimandrite of the Monastery of Mar Matta, lamented these events in a 36-page ode which has fortunately survived.[107] He says that the wicked Kurds forced the priests to deny their Apostolic faith and plunged the deacons into the abyss of apostasy. They ruined the monks’ chastity and kept the believers from confessing the Holy Trinity. Those who refused to recant their faith were crowned with martyrdom. Out of envy, the evil marauders destroyed the churches and monasteries and had no mercy on the altars, the Table of Life, and the holy books. They even violated the Holy Scriptures. No church in all Athur, Nineveh, Rahubuth, Banuhadra (modern Duhuk), and Jazirat ibn Umar was left undefiled. The celebrations of the Holy Eucharist ceased because of the adversities which befell the believers, and the Monastery of Mar Matta it became the fortress of refuge for those who fled the sword and sought peace and tranquility.[108]
Thus, it is apparent that the native Christian communities of Syrians and Armenians suffered external oppression by their rulers and, especially in the case of the Syrians, internal dissension. This dissension, stirred by mutinous clergymen like Bar Wahbun and Bar Masih, caused the high officers of the church and their communities to fall prey to greedy Muslim rulers, who relished the hefty bribes the rebellious clergy paid them. This was an unspeakably sad period for the native Christians, because it brought boundless pain to honorable leaders like Patriarch Michael Rabo and tremendously weakened their churches and communities, causing many people to embrace Islam in order to escape external oppression and internal conflict caused not only by avaricious Muslim rulers but by the clergy, who were contending for money or the control of more dioceses. One has only to read what is left of the Chronicle of the Anonymous Edessan to realize how deplorable was the internal state of the Syrian Church shortly after Michael Rabo died in 1199.[109]
The Christian communities also had the misfortune of being the victims of warfare between two Muslim groups, the Turks and the Kurds. Starting in 1185, the Turkomans waged war for eight years against their neighboring countries — Armenia, Athur (northern Iraq), Syria, and Cappadocia. The Turkomans, says Michael Rabo, were nomads and tent dwellers. They spent the winter in the abundantly verdant plains south of Syria, where there was no snow or frozen ground. In the spring they moved to the northern region, where there was plenty of grass for their cattle, moving in herds so large they blocked the highways. The Kurds, who often committed robbery, stole the Turkomans’ horses, cows, camels and other animals, and skirmishes between the two sides occasionally brought casualties. To protect their cattle, the Turks began traveling in caravans. After they learned that two hundred Kurds were about to ambush them in the region of Shabakhtan, near Mardin, the hostilities escalated into warfare, with the result that 10,000 men fell on both sides. Angered, the Kurds brought together 30,000 men from the regions of Nisibin and Tur Abdin, while the Turkomans massed near Khabur. The Kurds were beaten and fled, and the bodies of their dead littered the area between the River Khabur and Nisibin. Soon afterwards, two more battles between the Turkomans and the Kurds took place in the district of Mosul. The Kurds were again defeated and fled to the mountain areas bordering Cilicia to protect their families and cattle, but the Turkomans attacked, stole their possessions, and annihilated them — men, women, and children. The Turks sent groups of scouts into the mountains and plains of Syria and Mesopotamia, and whenever they found Kurds, they killed them without mercy and for no reason.[110]
The other Eastern sources shed little light on the conflict between the Turkomans and the Kurds. Ibn Shaddad notes briefly states that in 1183 a battle was fought between the two sides, and that many men were killed.[111] Indeed, there was severe ethnic conflict in Saladin’s army between the Turks and the Kurds, who did not trust each other.[112] This conflict between the Kurds and the Mamluks apparently was so vehement and disruptive that it attracted the attention of the Franks. The Muslims’ aim was to capture King Richard Lion-Heart and bring him to Saladin.[113] The Anonymous Edessan says that the Turkomans became more ferocious when Saladin fell ill for four months in 1183 at Harran, to which he returned after failing to capture Mosul. The Kurds did not dare appear openly on the highways. The Turkomans invaded their villages and drove them from their mountain abodes, forcing them to live in towns under most miserable conditions. Thereafter, the Turkomans became inured to bloodshed, pillage and annihilation.[114]
Michael Rabo says the Christians suffered little harm in the first years of the Turkomans’ conflict with the Kurds, i.e., before 1185. But as it turned into warfare, the Turks became aware that the Kurds often hid their possessions in Christian villages. Moreover, because the Turkish governors did not stop the Turkomans from looting and killing, the Kurds moved into Greater Armenia. After annihilating the Kurds, the Turkomans attacked Armenia and took 26,000 Armenians captive and sold them as slaves. They set fire to the villages and to the Garabed Monastery, and killed all its monks and pillaged its books and possessions. Their troops occupied Tall al-Arabs fortress in the region of Shabakhtan and sold its occupants into slavery. Next they slaughtered 170 Syrian men in Tall Bisme, near Mardin. When the rulers saw the destruction of their territory and the decimation of their village populations, they fought against the Turkomans, especially in the provinces of Claudia and Melitene. In the village of Amrun in Claudia, the Turkomans killed many people, including 200 Syrian men. Says Michael Rabo, no one can describe the carnage and devastation during eight years (1185-1193) of warfare among the Turkomans, Kurds, and Arab Muslims.[115] The Syrians and the Armenians, who had no stake in this warfare, paid the price in lives and possessions. Even small Syrian Christian communities like Bartulli and Mosul were not immune to the antagonism and destructive acts of their Muslim neighbors. Not surprisingly, the numbers of the Christian Syrians and Armenians in greater Syria, Mesopotamia and southern Turkey fell drastically, while the number of Muslims increased.
Michael Rabo relates several events that shed light on the Turkish rulers’ treatment of the Monastery of Mar Barsoum and their recognition of the saint’s power. In one case Feridun, lord of Melitene, and his profligate brother Muhammad fought over control of the city. Muhammad was soundly beaten and fled Melitene to join the Franks in Antioch. When conditions there did not suit him, he went to Sultan Kilij Arslan II of the Seljuks of Rum, hoping that the sultan would give him Melitene, but instead he received Heraclea (present day Ereghli in Turkey). Soon, however, Heraclea was taken from him. Muhammad went to the Turks in the East (Syria), only to be captured by Nur al-Din Zangi and imprisoned at al-Bira, on the bank of the Euphrates, where he lived off the charity of the people. While he was in prison the monks of the Monastery of Mar Barsoum, who feared Nur al-Din Zangi, bravely extended charity to him because he loved their monastery. When Nur al-Din died in 1174, Muhammad was released from prison; he learned that his brother’s wife, who hated her husband, had alredy left Melitene and gone to her family in Hisn Ziyad (modern Kharput in Turkey). He followed her there, and her family encouraged him to seize control of Melitene. He sought the divine intercession of Mar Barsoum and pledged that if he was successful, he would exempt the monastery from taxes. Disguised as a beggar, he went by night to Melitene with two of his followers. They took him to the house of one of his supporters, where he remained in hiding for two days.
On Sunday, February 15, 1175, Muhammad and his companions sneaked into his brother’s palace. They found a ladder on the ground, set it against the wall, and climbed down into the garden, where they found Feridun and an aged nanny sleeping. Muhammad struck his brother a fatal blow to the head, cut off his head, and took the keys of the city and the citadel. He boldly went through Melitene carrying his brother’s head, and everyone who saw him rushed to offer support. Fifteen men swore allegiance to him that night. The next morning he went with a hundred men to the citadel, to proclaim that the city had a new lord. The Christians of Melitene, scared, hid in their homes. But the Turks mounted their horses and gathered at the entrance of the citadel, with swords in hands. There was a great commotion, and rumors about the fate of their lord swirled. When Muhammad dropped his brother’s head from the wall, they faced the reality that their prince had been killed and pledged allegiance to Muhammad. After taking control of Melitene, Muhammad proposed exempting the Monastery of Mar Barsoum from taxes, but the monks felt that such a gesture would outrage the Muslims of Melitene against them and insisted on paying the taxes imposed on them. They proposed to pay him 300 dinars annually and asked to be exempted only from the additional tax of 700 dinars imposed by Feridun. It appears that Muhammad finally gave in to the monks, but as compensation he gave them the Monastery of Mar Dumit (Demete), near Melitene.[116]
But the most remarkable episode Michael Rabo relates is in connection with Kilij Arslan II, Seljuk Sultan of Rum (1155-1192), who came to Melitene in 1181 and inquired about Michael Rabo, then the patriarch. He sent him a friendly letter, together with a patriarchal staff and twenty red (gold) dinars, which caused much astonishment. The next year Kilij Arslan came again; having heard of the trouble Theodore bar Wahbun had caused, he sent a letter inviting the patriarch to Melitene. When he arrived, he was uncertain but felt that something unusual was happening. The sultan sent a messenger to tell him that he had ordered that the patriarch should enter into his presence according to the tradition and practice of the Christians, preceded by crosses and the gospel. The following day, three amirs and a host of horsemen came to accompany him with honor to meet Sultan Kilij Arslan, but the patriarch remained suspicious. On the morning of Thursday, July 8, 1182, he and his companions entered Melitene. To his surprise, the sultan, his troops, and the townsmen came out to welcome him. The Christians, with torches lit and crosses fixed on their spears, raised their voices, chanting. The sultan approached the patriarch and asked him not to dismount or shake his hand, then opened his arms and embraced Michael Rabo. The two men communicated through an interpreter, and when the patriarch felt that the sultan was truly attentive, he began to talk freely, supporting his points with testimonies from the Scriptures and from nature, interspersed with exhortations. As the sultan listened, his eyes filled with tears, and the patriarch thanked God. Overjoyed, the Christians raised a cry of thanks and praise when they saw the Worshiped Cross hoisted over the heads of the sultan and the Muslims. In this manner the throng entered the church, and at the end of his sermon, the patriarch blessed the sultan and the people. The next day the sultan informed the patriarch that he had abolished the taxes imposed on the Monastery of Mar Barsoum and confirmed his order with a royal rescript.[117] On Sunday, the sultan sent the patriarch a hand, plated with gold and silver and inlaid with jewels, along with relics of St. Peter. Michael Rabo stayed in Melitene a month, and every day the sultan sent him gifts. The two discussed questions about God, Christ, the prophets, the apostles, and other matters. When the sultan left Melitene, he invited the patriarch to accompany him, and on the way the patriarch engaged in a lengthy conversation with Kamal al-Din, a Persian philosopher traveling with the sultan. As the patriarch offered more testimonies from the Scriptures, the sultan praised the Syrians’ wisdom and expressed joy over them. The patriarch attributes the attitude of Sultan Kilij Arslan II not to himself but to the mercy of God, who chose to comfort his small flock and the Syrian Church. Although the sultan’s purpose in conferring such great honor on the Syrian patriarch is not known, his magnanimous attitude stands in contrast to that of the Christian prince, Joscelin II, who unashamedly robbed the Monastery of Mar Barsoum.[118]
After he departed Melitene, Kilij Arslan invaded the Byzantine territory and captured twelve fortresses. Later, in a letter to Michael Rabo, the sultan attributed his victory over the Byzantines to the power of the patriarch’s prayer:

From Kilij Arslan, the great Sultan of Cappadocia, Syria and Armenia to Patriarch Michael,
the friend of our state, who resides in the Monastery of Mar Barsoum and who prays for
our success. We declare that God has glorified the affairs of our state at this time by your
prayer. From ancient Philadelphia (Alashehr, Turkey), the son of the king of the Rum
[apparently Emperor Andronicus Comnenus (1183-1185), grandson of Alexius I] came with
his sons to offer submission to our throne. We dispatched with him an army of forty
thousand men. The enemies gathered in large numbers in the Great City (Constantinople)
and prepared for war. But God gave victory to our army and chased and defeated the enemies
of our state so badly that they will never be able to rise against us for a long time to come.
Our army occupied the great fortress of Diyadin and controlled the region extending
beyond the fortress and the seashore, which has become subject to us. Now we administer
that region, which has not been subject to the Turks before, according to the laws of our state.
It should be said that verily God has given us all this [victory] because of the power of your
prayer. Therefore, we beseech you not to cease praying for our state. Farewell.[119]

Never had a Byzantine emperor or a Frankish prince asked a Syrian patriarch to pray for his triumph over his Muslim enemies. The letter clearly shows the sultan’s genuine belief in the power of prayer. Why else would Kilij Arslan have written this letter, knowing that the patriarch had no political or military power? Did he hope to coax the Syrian Christians to support him? This is doubtful, for in his Chronicle Michael Rabo never even suggests that his people were military aggressors or voluntarily took part in the warfare involving the


[46] Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 1: 602, and al-Tarikh al-Bahir fi al-Dawla al-Atabegiyya, 161; Ibn Shaddad, al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyya wa al-Mahasin al-Yusufiyya, in R.H.C. Or., 3: 55; Abu Shama, 1: 228, follows Ibn Shaddad; Ibn al-Adim, Zubdat al-Halab min Tarikh Halab, 2: 340; Ibn Wasil, Mufarrij al-Kurub, 1: 262-263; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 107 of the Syriac text, and trans. Budge, 302, where khawaniq is rendered as strangury, a disease marked by the painful and slow discharge of urine; Reinhold Röhricht, Geschichte des Königreichs Jerusalem 1100-1291 (Innsbrug, 1898), 358; William of Tyre, 2: 394, n. 62.

[47] Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 1: 576-577.

[48] Ibn al-Athir, al-Tarikh al-Bahir, 162-175, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 1: 602-606; Sulayman Sai’gh, Tarikh al-Mawsil, 1 (Cairo; al-Matba’a al-Salafiyya, 1923), 179-181, 219; Sa’id al-Daywachi, Tarikh al-Mawsil, 1 (Baghdad: The Iraqi Academy, 1982): 335; Husayn Mu’nis, Nur al-Din Mahmud, 180-182; N. Elisséeff, Nur al-Din: un grand prince musulman de Syrie au temps des Croisades (Damascus, 1967), 64-65; Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (New York, 1999-2000), pp. 132-141.

[49] Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 1: 588-589, and al-Tarikh al-Bahir, 169; Ibn Wasil, 1: 235; Iorga,
L’Armenie Cilicienne, 98.

[50] K. L. Astarjian, Tarikh al-Umma al-Armaniyya (Mosul, 1951), 214-215.
[51] William of Tyre, 2: 386-387.

[52] Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 103 of the Syriac text, 292 of the English translation.

[53] Michael Rabo, 695-696 of the Syriac text, 337 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, 103 of the Syriac text,. 295 of the English translation.

[54] Michael Rabo, 710-711 of the Syriac text, 361 of the French translation; the Anonymous Edessan, 176-177 of the Syriac text, 205 of the Arabic translation; Bar Hebraeus, 108 of the Syriac text, 305 of the English translation; Frédéric Macler, “Armenia,” Cambridge Medieval History, 4: 1170-1171.

[55] The Anonymous Edessan, 169 of the Syriac text, 197-198 of the Arabic translation.

[56] William of Tyre, 2: 394.

[57] Michael Rabo, 705-706 of the Syriac text, 353 of the French translation.

[58] Michael Rabo, 705 of the Syriac text, 352 of the French translation; the Anonymous Edessan, 168 of the Syriac text, 196 of the Arabic translation.

[59] Michael Rabo, 697-698 of the Syriac text, 339-340 of the French translation; the Anonymous Edessan, 168 of the Syriac text, 195-196 of the Arabic translation.

[60] The Anonymous Edessan, 169 of the Syriac text, 197 of the Arabic translation.

[61] Michael Rabo, 678-679 of the Syriac text, 340-341 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, Ecclesiastical History, 3: 263-265; Patriarch Ignatius.Yaqub, Dafaqat al-Tib fi Tarikh Dayr al-Qiddis Mar Matta al-Ajib (Zahla, Lebanon, 1961), 88.

[62] The Anonymous Edessan, 169 of the Syriac text, 197 of the Arabic translation. In the spring of 1951 this author, with the students of St. Ephraim the Syrian Seminary in Mosul and its principal Rev. Bulus Behnam (ordained a bishop the next year), visited this monastery, which stands partly in ruins. Moses Bar Kipha (d. 903), a prominent Syrian writer, philosopher, and theologian, was educated at the Barren Monastery, between Sinjar and Balad in northern Iraq. For his biography, see Patriarch Aphram Barsoum, al-Lulu al-Manthur fi Tarikh al-Ulum wa al-Adab al-Syrianiyya, 2nd ed. (Hims, Syria, 1956), 434-441, and trans. Matti Moosa with the title The History of Syriac Literature and Sciences (Pueblo, Colorado: Passeggiata Press, 2000, 131-133, rpt. Gorgias Press, 2003), 398-404.

[63] Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 1: 573-576, and al-Tarikh al-Bahir, 146; Abu Shama, 1: 186, who follows Ibn al-Athir; Ibn al-Adim, Zubdat al-Halab, 2: 331; Ibn Wasil, 1: 191-193; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, p. 295, and Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, 213-214; Sa’igh, 1: 178-179; Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, Sana al-Barq al-Shami, abridged by Qiwam al-Din al-Fath ibn Ali al-Bundari, ed. Ramadan Sheshen (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid, 1971), 93-94. Another edition of this work is by Fathiyya al-Nabrawi (Cairo: Maktabat al-Khanji bi Misr, 1979).

[64] Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 1: 574-577, and al-Tarikh al-Bahir, 153; Ibn al-Adim, 2: 332-333; Ibn Wasil, 1: 192-193; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 105-106 of the Syriac text and trans. Budge, 295-297, and Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, ed. Anton Salihani (Beirut, 1958), 213-214.

[65] Michael Rabo, 697 of the Syriac text, 340 of the French translation.
[66] Michael Rabo, 698 of the Syriac text, p. 342 of the French translation.

[67] The Anonymous Edessan, 168 of the Syriac text, 196 of the Arabic translation; Michael Rabo, 710 of the Syriac text, 360-361 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 302 of the English translation.

[68] Michael Rabo, 698-700 of the Syriac text, 344-345 of the French translation.

[69] Michael Rabo, 699-700 of the Syriac text, 344-345 of the French translation.

[70] Michael Rabo, 698-700 of the Syriac text, 344-345 of the French translation.

[71] Bar Hebraeus, Ecclesiastical History, biography of Michael Rabo; Michael Rabo, 695 of the Syriac text, 337-338 of the French translation (because of a lacuna in the Syriac manuscript, the name of the eunuch is missing; Chabot, p. 337, apparently relying on Bar Hebraeus, writes the name as Amin al-Din, though Bar Hebraeus gives it as Mu’ayyid al-Din); the Anonymous Edessan, 168 of the Syriac text, 196 of the Arabic translation.

[72] Michael Rabo, 709 of the Syriac text, 360 of the French translation, gives the name as Bar Kumaib. Bar Hebraeus, Ecclesiastical History, biography of Michael Rabo, writes it as Bar Kulaib.

[73] Michael Rabo, 698 of the Syriac text, 340 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, ibid.
[74] Michael Rabo, 700-701 of the Syriac text, 347-349 of the French translation.

[75] Michael Rabo, 705-706 of the Syriac text, 352 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 107 of the Syriac text, 302 of the English translation.

[76] Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, Sana al-Barq al-Shami, 161-162; Ibn Wasil, 2: 9, appears to follow al-Isfahani. Michael Rabo, 709-710 of the Syriac text, 360-361 of the French translation, says Sayf al-Din Ghazi did the same thing after occupying Saruj and al-Raqqa.

[77] The Anonymous Edessan, 171 of the Syriac text, 199 of the Arabic translation.

[78] Michael Rabo, 707-709 of the Syriac text, 357-360 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, Ecclesiastical History, the biography of Michael Rabo.

[79] Michael Rabo, 710-711 of the Syriac text, 362-363 of the French translation.

[80] The Anonymous Edessan, 312 of the Syriac text, 350 of the Arabic translation.

[81] J. B. Chabot, ed., Michael Rabo, p. 384, n. 4 of the French translation, says Abu al-Qasim’s son was Baha al-Din Mas’ud, later deposed by Salah al-Din (Saladin), but does not cite any source for this assertion.

[82] Michael Rabo, 721-723 of the Syriac text, 382-384 of the French translation.

[83] The Anonymous Edessan, 316-318 of the Syriac text, 355-357 of the Arabic translation.

[84] On the Syrian Monastery of Mary Magdalene, see Rev. Yuhanna Dolabani, “Al-Suryan fi Filistin aw Dayr Maryam al-Majdaliyya,” al-Hikma, No. 9 (Jerusalem: June, 1928): 434-443.

[85] Michael Rabo, 722-724 of the Syriac text, 386-388 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus,
Ecclesiastical History, the biography of Michael Rabo.

[86] The Anonymous Edessan, 323 of the Syriac text, 362 of the Arabic translation.

[87] See Patriarch Ignatius Yaqub III, Dafaqat al-Tib fi Tarikh Dayr al-Qiddis Mar Matta al-Ajib (Zahla, Lebanon, 1961), 85.
[88] Michael Rabo, 732 of the Syriac text, 402-403 of the French translation.
[89] Michael Rabo, 734 of the Syriac text, 406 of the French translation, says they paid him 2000 gold pieces and 500 red pieces.
[90] Patriarch Yaqub III, Dafaqat al-Tib, 85.
[91] Michael Rabo, 734 of the Syriac text, 406 of the French translation. Unfortunately, he does not explain why he sought Saladin’s intervention of Saladin in the case of Bar Masih and what role Saladin played in this matter.
[92] Michael Rabo, 738 of the Syriac text, 412 of the French translation,
[93] The Anonymous Edessan, 328-330, 340-341 of the Syriac text, 367-368, 379-380 of the Arabic translation.
[94] Michael Rabo, 710 of the Syriac text, 361 of the French translation; the Anonymous Edessan, 147 of the Syriac text, 202 of the Arabic translation, faults the governor of Mardin, rather than Miyafarqin. Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 107 of the Syriac text, 303 of the English translation, apparently places this event in the year 1174.
[95] Michael Rabo, 730 of the Syriac text, 369 of the French translation; the Anonymous Edessan, 147 of the Syriac text, 202 of the Arabic translation.

[96] The Anonymous Edessan, 210 of the Syriac text, 239 of the Arabic translation,

[97] Ibn al-Athir, 2: 126-127; Abu Shama, 2: 227; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 132 of the Syriac text, 371 of the English translation, and Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, 229, 232; al-Daywachi, Tarikh al-Mawsil, 1: 309-310.

[98] Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 132 of the Syriac text, 371 of the English translation, and Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, 229, 232.

[99] For details see Ibn al-Athir, 2: 128-137.

[100] Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 133 of the Syriac text, 374-375 of the English translation; Patriarch Ignatius Yaqub III, 94.

[101] Ignatius Yaqub III, 94

[102] Sulayman Sa’igh, Tarikh al-Mawsil, 1: 166; Sa’id al-Daywachi, 1: 321-323.

[103] Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 159 of the Syriac text, 439-441, and Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, 282-284.

[104] On Abu Nasr of Bartulli, see Aphram Barsoum, al-Lulu al-Manthur fi Tarikh al-Ulum was al-Adab al-Suryaniyya (Aleppo, 1956), 539-540, and trans. Matti Moosa as The History of Syriac Literature and Science (Pueblo, Colorado: Passeggiata Press, 2000, 159-160, rpt. Gorgias Press, 2003), 484-485.

[105] Bar Hebraeus, Chronography, 441 of the English translation.

[106] Bar Hebraeus, 160 of the Syriac text, 441 of the English translation.

[107] Barsoum, al-Lulu al-Manthur, 540, trans. Moosa, Passagiata, 160 and Gorgias, 484 says he found a copy of this ode in Diyarbakr, copied in the handwriting of the Maphrian Barsoum II al-Ma’dani.

[108] Patriarch Ignatius Yaqub III, Dafaqat al-Tib, 96, gives a translation of this ode.

[109] The Anonymous Edessan, 335-345, 348-350 of the Syriac text, 374, 379, 380-384, 386-388 of the Arabic translation. Unfortunately, there are many gaps in the cited pages, and we lack information which would have shed more light on the dissension within the Syrian Church.

[110] Michael Rabo, 732 of the Syriac text, 400-402 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, 114 of the Syriac text, pp. 321-322 of the English translation.

[111] Ibn Shaddad, al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyya, R.H.C. Or., 3: 87.

[112] Ibn Shaddad, 3: 313; Abu Shama, Kitab al-Rawdatayn fi Akhbar al-Dawlatayn, 2: 199.

[113] Ambroise, L’Estoire de la guerre Sainte, ed. Gaston Paris, in Collection de documents inédits sur l’histoire de France (Paris, 1897), 453-454, and trans. Merton Jerome Hubert in verse as The Crusade of Richard Lion-Heart, with notes by J. L. La Monte (New York, 1941, rpt. New York: Octagon Books, 1976), 414-415, and trans. Edward Noble Stone as The History of the Holy War (Seattle: The University of Washington, 1939), 148-149; Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, trans. and ed. Helen J. Nicholson as Chronicle of the Third Crusade (Ashgate, 1997), 359.

[114] The Anonymous Edessan, 195 of the Syriac text, 225 of the Arabic translation.

[115] Michael Rabo, 732 of the Syriac text, 400-402 of the French translation; Bar Hebraeus, 114 of the Syriac text, 321-322 of the English translation.

[116] Michael Rabo, 710-712 of the Syriac text, 362-364 of the French translation

[117] Michael Rabo, 725 of the Syriac text, p. 391 of the French translation; the Anonymous Edessan, ed. Albert Abouna, 187 of the Syriac text, 216 of the Arabic translation, esp. n. 4. Abouna erroneously says that Kilij Arslan imposed a tax on the Monastery of Mar Barsoum.

[118] Michael Rabo, 725-727 of the Syriac text, 390-393 of the French translation.

[119] Michael Rabo, 728 of the Syriac text, 394-395 of the French translation.