In the story of Adam and Eve, the Bible describes the original perfect home of the human race where God planted a garden out of which four streams flowed, the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The Koran parallels the Bible. In the Koran, God promises that the gardens of Eden, underneath which there are flowing rivers, will be the resting place of the righteous. The identities of the Pishon and the Gihon Rivers are lost, but the names Tigris and Euphrates, have been associated with two of the main rivers of Anatolia ( Today’s Turkey ) since as early as 2000 BC. Both of these rivers rise in eastern Anatolia and flow south through today’s Syria, and Iraq into the Persian Gulf. In this ” land between the rivers ” ( known as ” Mesopotamia” ), some of civilazation’s most important developments hava taken place: for example, written language, codified law, and the concept of one God.
Carrhae – Harran
Harran is an important site for Judaism, Christianity and Islam because it was Prophet Abraham’s home when he heard God’s call. Abraham ” the father of the many nations ” and ” the friend of God “, is held by the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims to be their patriarch. Historians put his date anywhere between 3000 and 900 BC. The most commonly accepted date is sometime between 2000 and 1500 BC. The Jewish and the Christian traditions hold that Abraham’s father Terah led his clan in its migration from Ur of the Chaldees to Harran ( Gen. 11:31 ). Harran is referred to as Aramnaharaim, meaning ” the land of the Arameans of Two Rivers”. The Aramean clan traced its ancestry to Noah’s grandson Aram. Jews and Christians believe that Abraham was called on to sacrifice his son Isaac; Muslims believe that Ismael was the son whom Abraham would have sacrificed and with whom he founded his holy house. The three religions share a number of prophets and apostles besides Abraham. The Koran reads, ” We believe in God. We believe in what has been revealed to us through Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob and their tribes, to Moses and to Jesus, in what has been revealed to the prophets by God. We do not make a difference between any of them, and we submit ourselves to God “. (Sura 130) The Islamic tolerance is part of the background of the coexistance of peoples of different faiths over the years. On his death, Abraham’s father Terah was buried in Harran. After Abraham heard God’s call to found a great nation and to move to the land of Canaan, some of the members of his family extended family remained in Harran. Today Harran is a small, partially walled village distinguished by a cluster of bee-hive shaped houses, a 13th century AD fortress, and the ruins of a temple – university complex.
Edessa – Sanliurfa
Sanliurfa claims connections with Abraham and Nimrod , and with 1st century Christian missionaries. Its mosques reflect the Muslim presence here from the 12th century on. Alexander the Great came through here in 333 BC; his inheritor and general Seleucis renamed the place Edessa, referring to a city he knew in Macedonia. It was called that through the time of the Crusades. ” Urfa” harks back to the earlier name. Since the Turkish Revolution of 1923 it has acquired the title of ” Sanli” – ” Glorious ” Urfa. The Christian influence in Edessa, according to the 4 th century Christian historian Eusebius, began when King Abgar V ( 4 BC – 50 AD ) addressed a letter to Jesus asking him to come cure him of his leprosy. King Abgar offered Jesus refuge from the Jews of Jerusalem who opposed him. King Abgar wrote in his letter ” My city is small but stately; it would be appropriate for both of us”. In reply Jesus sent his blessing but also his polite refusal of the offer. This letter is the basis of the tradition by which the Christians of Urfa have claimed that their church was established even before the crucifixion and Jesus’s resurrection. In 978 a Christian Arab writer reported that there were more than 300 churches in Edessa, and a few years later another said that the cathedral of Edessa, long since gone, with its beautiful mosaic-covered vaulted ceiling was one of the great wonders of the world.
Amida – Diyarbakir
Diyarbakir, along with Harran and Sanliurfa, must be one of the oldest continuously occupied cities of the Middle East. Once important, the Syrian Chaldean and Syrian Orthodox communities are overshadowed today by the city’s muslim institutions. Its Christian community was represented at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 by a bishop. Julian the Apostate who was fighting the Persians in 363 died near Diyarbakir, having been stabbed by one of his own Christian soldiers.
Tur Abdin means ” the plateau of the servants of God “. This has been the center of the Syrian Orthodoc Church since 6th century when Bishop Jacob Baradi converted the people here to Christianity. In medieval times there were as many as 150 ordained bishops and 80 monasteries. Today there are 3 Christian monasteries here struggling to exist, Mor Gabriel, Mor Yakub and Deyrulzafaran. Their membership has dwindled and their finamcial resources are low, but their libraries hold priceless volumes of early Christian literature. In the churches of Tur Abdin, people celebrate Christmas by lighting a fire of oak branches to remember the fire that the shepherds lit in Bethlehem to warm the baby Jesus.
Mt. Ararat – Agri Dagi
Mt. Ararat, a dormant volcano, looms majestically over the far eastern tip of Turkey even through the summer the summit is capped in Snow.The last time it erupted was on June 2, 1840. At that time a rock fall destroyed the village of Arghuri where legend held that prophet Noah planted the first vineyard. The story of the Flood in which Noah builds the Ark to save himself, his family, and a selection of animals from God’s cleansing waters is told both in the Bible ( Gen. 6:9 ) and in the Koran ( Sura 27-51 ). In his book, The Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus reported in about AD 70 that he had heard about the existance of the Ark on Mt. Ararat, and Marco Polo said the same thing in AD 1300.
Sumela Monastry – Sumela Manastiri
Two monks from Athens, Sophronius and uncle Barnabas found the monastery of Sumelas in AD 368. They followed the guidance of an icon to a cave in this mountain setting. They believed it had been painted by the Apostle St. Luke. In the 6th century the emperor Justinian ordered a silver reliquary made for the monastery in order to preserve the remains of Barnabas. The Sumelas monastery was the goal of many pilgrims, both Orthodox Christians and Muslims, until it closed in 1923. Now a museum protected by the Turkish goverment and being repaired. More than the art and architecture, it is the setting of the building of Sumelas against the sheer cliff that inspires the usual descriptions of ” breat-taking, powerful, grand and mystic”. Some old manuscripts and icons from Sumelas are still preserved in museums and private collections in Europa and the United States.
Tephrice – Divrigi
From the beginning of the 5th century AD, Tephrice was the center of a heretical Christian sect, the Paulicians who believed, among other things, that Christ was two persons. Their name referred both to St. Paul the Apostle and to a 3rd century heretic, Paul of Samosata. They professed to have modeled their interpretation of Christianity on early Church traditions. Such things as infant baptism, repetition of the Nicene Creed, the use of a cross that was not made of wood, and the buildings of churches they rejected on the grounds that Jesus had not done so. Their missionaries active throughout the Byzantine Empire. In 873 Basil I the Macedonian captured Tephrice. Basil I sent the surviving Paulicians into the Balkans and Russia where they influenced the sect of the Bogomils, likewise a heretical sect that was important in the 12th century and continued into the 17th.