The fictional Assyrian “book of Arkah”

 By Sait B.K. Danho

Translated by Johny Messo

 In the past months, one could read on several websites about a thousand-year old book from Arkah/Kharabale, an Aramean village in Tur ‘Abdin. It allegedly contains various Assyrian names of the contemporary inhabitants of the village. Consequently, it has been deduced and asserted that the modern-day citizens of Arkah are Assyrians. ‘Assyrian’ magazines, like the Swedish-based Hujada (“Unity”), ardently proclaimed this gospel among their readership with great fanfare. The text was intended as counterevidence for people like me, who are not convinced that the ‘modern Assyrians’ are the true descendants of the ancient Assyrians.

 I had suspected from the outset that it could have been written by Abdulahad Jallo. For he is notorious in Germany for similar false interpretations and discoveries of such texts to the benefit of this new ‘Assyrianism’. Ever since the news about the alleged book from Arkah had reached me, I had repeatedly requested the ‘Assyrian’ heralds for its original version or, at least, a reliable reference to it. Regretfully, they were not able to meet my request. Instead, I was referred to a Hujada article which discussed, and cited from, this book. Finally, I found this referenced article, which is highly lauded within the ‘Assyrian’ world. I could not refrain the cynical smile on my face when I noticed the name of its author. It was indeed Abdulahad Jallo. Just as I had assumed from the very beginning.

 Brief summary of the article

We are dealing here with an article and not a book, as had been written on the internet. In it, an alleged poet appears by the name of Il-Shvai Ashur, daughter of Savme Ashur Hinno; she was born in 1010 in Arkah (Turkey) and deceased in 1097 in Aleppo (Syria). A dozen of books should have been penned by her and some of them, it is claimed, can still be found among the Kurds and the ‘Benahti’ tribes in Cizre/Gziro (Turkey). Besides patriotic writings, this Il-Shvai Ashur is said to have written philosophical and historical works in which she had drawn a map of ancient Assyria and portrayed the audaciousness of the pre-Christian Assyrian kings. In addition, she founded cultural and educational centres in several towns and villages, among which Arkah, Midyat, Kilit-Mara, Upper- and Lower Kafro, ‘Iwardo, Mzizah, Arbo and Keferbe. Her motto was: “Raise your voices, gird your swords and save the land of your fathers.” Already a thousand years ago, we read in the opening lines, the aforesaid Assyrian names were in use among the families of Hinno, Patte, Dimmo and Sabogo in Arkah.[1]

 The article is a complete distortion

I am of the firm conviction that the article is a typical distortion. One does not even have to be an expert to arrive at this conclusion upon reading the article. First of all, it is very uncharacteristic for the Aramaic-speaking population of Tur-‘Abdin to carry three or four names. Secondly, the mentioned family names are rather those which are familiar to us in modern times. In other words, what we have here is a fusion of ancient Assyrian names of kings or towns with Aramaic names of people from Arkah who are well-known today.

   Patriarch Abdallah Alsaddi’s list from 1870 does not mention these names

 The names of the families, which according to the article were present in the village some thousand years ago, were unknown less than 150 years ago. They are, in fact, not at all mentioned in the statistical list of the Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch Abdallah Alsaddi, which he, according to Ottoman statistics, composed in 1870. In this Aramaic list, he mentions the names of more than 40 families in Arkah, but the families of Dimmo, Sabogo or Patte are not among them. Only the name of ܡܠܟܝ ܚܢܘ (Melki Hinno) appears in this list.[2] It is to be noted, too, that the family name Hinno is not surprisingly old. For the first person named Hinno appears to be the grandfather of the well-known Khory-Priest Sleman Be(th)-Hinno, author of the Aramaic book Gunhe d-Suryoye d-Tur-‘Abdin (tr. The atrocities against the [Old-]Syrians of Tur-‘Abdin) that was published by Bar Hebräus Verlag in 1987; translations of this book are available in Turkish, Swedish, German and Dutch. The family Patte, on the other hand, originates from the village of Arbo and was previously called Be(th)-Qiso. This family lives hardly any longer than two centuries in Arkah.[3]

 In his conclusion, the author writes that four years after the death of this mysterious lady Il-Shvai Ashur, who is the main subject of the article under review, her bones were returned to Arkah in 1101. Her bones were buried in a three-day ceremony in which, among others, also Turkish, Yezidi and Armenian leaders participated. I seriously doubt whether there were Turks in Tur-‘Abdin in the twelfth century. And as far as the Yezidi group concerns, their religion was grounded only in the twelfth century by Sheikh Adi.[4]   

 Il-Shvai, a corrupted Aramaic form for Elizabeth (ܐܠܝܫܒܥ \ܐܠܝܫܒܚ )

Indeed, the alleged book from Arkah does not exist and the article is no doubt a distortion of the worst kind. The cited sources in the article are very suspect, too. They are rather, in all likelihood, fabrications of Abdulahad Jallo’s mind. Thus far, I have searched in vain for both the supposed historical persons and the sources mentioned in the highly contentious article.

I presume that Il-Shvai is a corrupted form of Elishbah, a name customary among Arameans. If you disconnect the first syllable from the name and change the vocal e into i it becomes Il-. This is, in itself, a sound linguistic development. It is also known that the consonant b in this name ought to be softened and pronounced as w, according to Aramaic grammar rules. The change of the final letter heth in the name, as Callo might read it, into y (here rendered i) is very unusual. Only in pronunciation, that is, for in the script the loss of the final stroke of the heth will give i in Aramaic. By inventing Il-shvai, he might argue that the original text was illegible. With such a pretext he may excuse himself if someone would accuse him of forgery.   

 Why do ‘Assyrian’ magazines publish such preposterous articles and why didn’t they scrutinize it before its publication?

If these magazines had sincerely sought the truth, they would have noticed that the assertions of Jallo are incorrect (to say the least). But the truth would not have confirmed their illusions. Thus, they are not seeking the truth but, instead, look for Trojan horses to carry on their ‘Assyrian’ propaganda. Not all of us have sufficient knowledge to discern truth from error. And many of our people, especially the youth, easily fall prey to these kinds of writings, which can be found on the internet. In fact, the entire ‘Assyrian’ movement (‘Assyrianism’) of the past decades is based on such falsified articles, like the one of Abdulahad Jallo about Arkah.[5]

 Post Script Translator

Writings in which our history and identity is being warped emerge on a regular basis and articles of this kind abound on the Internet. But few people, it appears, seem to bother about the fact that our history is so ardently rewritten and distorted. Not so Said, the writer of the translated article. In my opinion, he has rendered his people good service with his refutation. All sincere truth-seeking readers deserve this. And it is for this reason that I willingly agreed to translate the German text (freely) into English to make it accessible to a broader audience.

 Although it is not worth anyone’s time to embark on a detailed analysis of the brief article of Abdulahad Jallo, I would like to add a few more words to support Said’s counterarguments.

 First of all, if the Edessan Aramaic (‘Syriac’) sources of Mr. Jallo truly exist, he ought to be credited and distinguished for a major historical achievement. Because all renowned scholars of Syriac-Aramaic Studies have so far failed to even refer to these works. I do not only mean the eminent professors at western universities, such as Oxford, Göttingen and Leiden. I also include the prominent native intellectuals, like the Lazarist Father Paul Bedjan (1838-1920), Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Aphram Rahmani (1848-1929), Syriac-Orthodox Patriarch Aphrem I Barsoum (1887-1957) and Syriac-Orthodox  Metropolitan Yuhanon Dolabani (1885-1969).

 Secondly, let us have a fresh, critical look at a few of the “Assyrian names” that occur in the article. The main character, a female poet and writer named Il-Shvai, is said to have had a brother named Nebuchadnezzar, the name of a Babylonian king well-known from the Bible. Their father was known as Savme Ashur Hinno; surnames, it should be noted, were unknown in the eleventh century, as were three forenames (titles or epithets excluded). In a so-called list of writers who referred to this Il-shvai we come across some vague names. One of them being a female poet from Arkah known as Maryam Hannibal (1012-1090), the latter being a Phoenician boys name. It is very unlikely, too, that there existed an “Abgar Bardaysan” (quoted in note five) around 1600 nearby Omid, modern Diyarbakir. It is generally known, though, that there existed an Abgaride dynasty at Edessa. We also know of “the philosopher of the Arameans,” as Saint Aphrem (died 373) called Bar-Dayson, the philosopher who lived at the court of Abgar the Great (177-212). In sum, all the (compound) names in the article seem to reflect the imaginative thinking and ideology of Abdulahad Jallo rather than reality.

 So, too, the erroneous explanation of “Kharabale” as “Kharbe d’il.” This village was simply not known under this Kurdish name, which means something like “The ruin by Ali,” until ca. 1840. Before its ruination, this small rural town was (and still is) known in Aramaic as Arkah. Cf. H. Anschütz, Die syrischen Christen vom Tur ‘Abdin (Wurzburg, 1985), p. 78.

 I further would like to recall in this connection the observations of John Joseph, The Modern Assyrians of the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 22-23, where this historian refers to a study of a French scholar in which he noted that among “some 50 [Aramaic] pages of proper names of people” he had compiled, “there is not a single writer who has an ‘Assyrian’ name.” This was directed at the claims of “modern Assyrians” who, by means of ‘borrowing’ uncovered Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian names from archaeology, asserted a direct link with the Assyrians of old. This observation was not meant to deny, however, the existence of some ancient Mesopotamian (theophoric) names in the first centuries A.D., nor the occurrence of certain familiar Biblical names such as Sennacherib in later Christian times.

 Thirdly, the original article of Abdulahad Jallo was translated (from Arabic?) and provided with extra remarks by Augin Kurt, and from which Dikran Eğo made the Turkish translation. Therefore, one can reasonably ask why the two translators actually assented to translate such an egregiously distorted article. By translating and publishing it, both the translators and the editors of Huyada magazine consent and contribute to this falsified article of the worst kind. This is a great insult to their readership who certainly deserve better than misleading articles.    

  (This article by Abdulahad Jallo comes from Huyodo magazine published in September 2005. In Swedish the title was “Döda poeters sällskap”)  

[1] Abdulahad Jallo, “Arkahlı kadın şair Il-şvai Aşur,” in Huyada (September, 2005). I have accessed it online at http://www.arkah.de/magazin/001/001.html [last visited, February 24, 2006].

 

[2] Patriarch Abdallah al-Saddi (at this time still a Monk) in his Statistics (1870, not published yet), pp. 19-20. This booklet contains 42 pages and is written in Garshuni, that is, in the Arabic language but in the Aramaic script.

[3] Personal communication with an aged lady from the village of Arkah.

[4] P. Haider, M. Hutter and S. Kreuzer, Religionsgeschichte Syriens (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1996), p. 357.

[5] I particularly would like to thank Aho Hanuno for his kind assistance in scrutinizing Jallo’s disputed article.