On most afternoons, Mor Barsaumo, a honey-colored, fifth-century stone church nestled in a warren of slanted streets, draws a crowd. In the narrow courtyard, old men smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, while children kick a soccer ball across the stone floor. In a darkened classroom, empty except for a few desks, a teacher gives private lessons in Syriac, derived from Aramaic, the language of Christ.
And now, the refugees also come.
Advised by relatives or other refugees, newcomers to Midyat often make the steps of the church their first stop. Midyat and its environs””known in Syriac as Tur Abdin, “mountain of the servants of God”””are the historical heartland of the Middle East’s widely dispersed Syriac Orthodox Christian community. Now the region has become a haven as the fighting in Syria and Iraq has forced Christians to flee their homes.
“All Syriac Christians come here. Most of the aid is delivered from here,” says Ayhan GÃ¼rkan, a deacon at Mor Barsaumo and a member of the Tur Abdin Syriac Christians Committee, set up to look after Midyat’s Christian refugees.