Facing the Syrian border of Mardin, the Bagok mountain range was one of the centers of PKK activities for years, sparking a crackdown on the part of the Turkish government that resulted in the destruction of dozens of Assyrian villages and the flight to Europe of many of the Christians who were still resisting in the area known as Turabdin. Twenty years ago, coinciding with a period of political détente, some returned and continued their lives from where they left off. Villages were not the only places where the human voice was heard again. Mor Yakub Monastery, located on the top of the mountain, was opened to worship again in 2013. Its sole custodian is Father Aho, who has just been sentenced to 25 months in prison by a Turkish court. The monk is still free because the sentence can be appealed and Mor Gabriel’s lawyers are preparing the appeal. The process could drag on for years.
The name of the Aho monastery in Syriac records is Mor Yakub, in honor of the one who founded it in the 6th century, Mor Yakub de Suruç. The monastery is known as Iglesia de Ceylan (Church of the Gazelles) among the locals. According to a popular legend, the gazelles contributed to the construction of the monastery.
Father Aho Bileçen himself explained the contribution of gazelles to Voice of America as follows: “Our monastery was founded at the end of the 6th century by Saint James or Mor Yakup. According to popular belief, during that period they were experiencing difficulties in the construction of the monastery, probably due to drought or water shortage. Our priests prayed but it still did not rain. There was no water for the preparation of the mortar. They pray, God sends thousands of gazelles, they donate their milk. Meanwhile, tons of milk are obtained and used to knead mortar. Since then, the monastery has always been under its auspices and protected by gazelles. “
The monastery’s relationship with gazelles continues. “The monastery was empty for some time. The gazelles settled down. They come and walk around it. Their numbers have decreased, but we are trying to protect them. We want to share everything with nature. We give them food and water. Their number is thirteen and they are shown to us ”.
Part of the monastery built on rocks resembles the horn of a gazelle, hence it is also known as Mar Yakub of Horn. This part has not been touched for centuries. The monastery is among the Assyrian properties transferred to the Turkish Treasury by the Mardin governorate. Syriacs are now fighting to regain ownership.
Translated from Turkish by Ferran Barber