Armenian communities in Syria

This Google Map shows the Armenian communities and places of worship in Syria prior to the Syrian conflict.

Armenians were especially concentrated in Aleppo (Haleb). Each of the city’s nine Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic churches is shown on the map. There were also significant communities in Damascus, in a cluster of villages in the Kesab (Kasab) area adjacent to the Turkish border, and in a number of desert towns in the NE at which Armenians arrived during and after the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

There was a post-Genocide Armenian refugee camp on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, which operated from 1922, had its own churches (Surp Khach, or Holy Cross, and Surp Krikor Lusavorich) and gradually developed into a normal residential suburb.

Aleppo was also the location of an Armenian Orphanage. The United Nations Office at Geneva in Switzerland has a vast archive and library, including holdings generated and collected by its predecessor the League of Nations. Among these are 15 registers under references C1601/497, C1602/498 and C1603/499 which pertain to the children admitted to the Armenian Orphanage in Aleppo during the period 1922 to 1930. Each volume contains short biographies and black and white photographs of up to 100 orphans and others admitted to the Orphanage. The registers do not form a complete unbroken series covering all inmates – four original volumes, known to have existed because of the sequential numbering of individuals admitted to the orphanage, have been lost or destroyed at some date. However, this still leaves illustrated biographical sketches of approximately 1,500 Armenians, victims but survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

Each orphan had been deported from the Armenian-inhabited regions of the Ottoman Empire, and presumably most if not all had lost both parents and all other close family members. Many had escaped or been released from captivity in the homes of Turks, Kurds or Arabs, many had been forced to convert, and many of the girls had been treated as domestic servants or unwilling concubines.

Today the descendants of the original refugees in Aleppo are likely to have been displaced by the fighting in Syria and to have fled from a city in ruins to, ironically, the relative safety of neighbouring Turkey.

 

Versions of this blog and map were originally published by bluebirdresearch.com in 2012.

Yezidi villages in Syria

This Google Map was created just after the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

It shows some of the surviving Yezidi villages in the Kurd Dagh, or “Kurdish Mountain”, a largely Kurdish region, north of Aleppo, in the far NW of Syria, at that date.

Other Yezidi villages in this area had already been abandoned, although their shrines and mausoleums remained places of pilgrimage.

Yezidis also lived in the main town Afrin (also known as Efrîn) and in other Kurdish settlements in the area.

It is not known what effect the conflict in Syria has had on the Yezidi population.

 

This short blog post and map were originally published on the bluebirdresearch website.

The Jews of Kurdistan

There are very few Jews remaining today in Kurdistan, although, post-Saddam, conditions would be more favourable for Jewish life at least in Iraqi or southern Kurdistan. While a few elderly Jews survive in the larger cities, and there are doubtless not a few part-Jewish Kurds descended from urban mixed marriages, most Kurdistani Jews left Iraq and Iran during the 1950/51 airlift to Israel.

The community was quite insular, unlike many other Jewish communities in the Middle East, including of course Baghdad, where Jews were cosmopolitan and often had extended family connections across the region. Furthermore, the native language of Kurdish Jews was Aramaic (although Jews in Mosul spoke Arabic) and secondarily the local Kurdish language (generally Kurmanji but Sorani towards the south of the area inhabited).

The Google Map shows the majority of towns and villages of former Jewish settlement in Kurdistan – an invisible country divided between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey (sometimes called respectively eastern, southern, western and northern Kurdistan).

Blue pins are former Jewish settlements in Iran; red pins in Iraq; green pins in Syria; and yellow pins in Turkey. Question marks show the approximate position of unlocated villages.

The map also gives 1881 population estimates for various larger places; these are taken from Andree’s “Zur Volkskunde der Juden” (pub Leipzig, 1881). There were 25,000 or so Jews across Kurdistan in the 1940s. Following the “Operation Ezra & Nehemiah” exodus to Israel in 1950/51, there are very few Jews resident today anywhere in Kurdistan.

 

Sources

The map is drawn from a number of print and online sources including Ora Shwartz-Be’eri’s fine illustrated volume The Jews of Kurdistan (Jerusalem, 2000) – to which particular acknowledgement is paid and which is highly recommended for family historians with Jewish roots in Kurdistan – and Evyatar Friesel’s Atlas of Modern Jewish History, and the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.

This article and map were originally published by bluebirdresearch in 2012.