Diyarbakir's lost Jewish legacy: A quest for the invisible community

From ancient synagogues to tales of survival, Diyarbakir's Jewish heritage remains cloaked in mystery.

Diyarbakir, known for its rich tapestry of diverse cultures and religions, was once home to a modest Jewish community. But a recent exploration into its heart, Sur, yielded no tangible remnants of this community's existence. Instead of actual artifacts, many stories emerged, painting a picture of life long forgotten.

In 1888, the city's Jewish populace, primarily impoverished and Arabic-speaking, was recorded at 450. Residing in Kore Mahallesi, adjacent to the iconic Xancepek of Migirdic Margosyan, their homes are nestled beside Armenian and Assyrian neighbors in the Gavur Mahallesi. The devastating conflict of 2015-16 decimated this region, erasing nearly all traces of its past. Modern establishments now stand where the memories of the Jewish Quarter used to be.

Surprisingly, Google Maps highlights the 'Eski Diyarbekir Synagogue,' but visiting the location disappoints. The nearby Arab Sheikh Mosque, damaged during the conflict, was fortunate to see restoration and reopened its doors in 2017.

Decades before the conflict, Diyarbakır had become devoid of its Jewish inhabitants. While small Christian congregations persisted, Jewish traditions ceased in the early 1950s. A mass migration to Israel and an unfortunate incident involving a local, Qırıx Yunus, marked the end of Jewish life in the city.

Traces of the community's existence are barely perceptible. A glance at the city model by Fesuh Gundoğar reveals a building marked "Synagogue," though its existence remains uncertain.

Similarly, the Arabic-speaking Jewish communities in neighboring Mardin and Nusaybin faded away. Despite tales of a synagogue in Mardin and the existence of the Ayn Yahud fountain, no physical evidence ties them to the Jewish communities of yesteryears.

Today, in cities like Diyarbakir and Old Mardin, perceiving any Jewish presence is challenging. Only the oldest locals bear memories of a time when Jews lived alongside them. Apart from some places in Istanbul, Izmir, and Thrace, the legacy of non-Sephardic Jewish communities speaking languages like Arabic and Kurdish remains an enigma. Only tales like those of Yunus/Yona and Margosyan breathe life into these forgotten histories.

*The article was first published on on August 30, 2023. It was shortened and translated into English for the readers of Gerceknews.

**The photo is from

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