Friday, June 27, 2008


"In our country, Kurdistan, one of the most fertile regions of the earth, humanity for the first time in its history began to cultivate agriculture, have a settled life, and to raise livestock. Various tribes have lived in this region since long, long ago, and they began a specific development towards culture. For these reasons, this region has played the role of the cradle of civilization for a long time."
~ PKK Party Program (1998), Kurdish Society.

It's amazing . . . there's almost nothing on the Internet about Cizîr (Cizre) in English anyway, but at one time, Cizîr was a cultural and intellectual capital of the Kurdish people. Today, Cizîr is a bustling little town near the Syrian Kurdish border.

It may be, however, that the people of Cizîr are slightly more crazy than your average Kurd, or at least that's the idea you get driving through the town. Everyone is in the road and, while that's not so unusual for Kurdistan, people will stand safely in or near the road's median watching you approach by car. At the last moment, as you see them beginning to loom in the windshield, they will dart right in front of you and stop . . . because they're not sure if you're going to stop. You do, and they continue across the road. Cars, cargo bikes, animal-pulled carts, people-pushed carts--everything, in other words--pulls out in front of you from the right-hand curb going in the opposite direction.

And I thought Urfa was bad.

Cizîr has a number of important historical sights for the visitor, which means it's definitely worth a stop even if for only one day. Stop and get some lahmacun after you see the sights.

Perhaps the most famous place in Cizîr is the resting place of Mem and Zîn.

The wooden structure in this photo shades the steps that lead to Mem and Zîn's grave.

And here's the grave; they are buried together. Until recently, the public was not allowed to visit the grave but the complex that houses the grave is now receiving funds for restoration from the EU, so I guess part of the deal was to open this particular area to the public.

The entire complex in which you find Mem and Zîn is called the Abdaliye Medrese. Above is the door to the mosque. The medrese was built in 1437 by Emir Abdal. As in other medrese/mosque complexes in Cizîr, the rooms surrounding the central courtyard served as classrooms, dormitories, and dining halls. Dr. Van Bruinessen has more information on education in the medreses of North Kurdistan.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of this mosque complex, but this is part of the area surrounding the courtyard. Classes would have been conducted here.

The carpets were placed outside so the faithful could pray in more comfort, or that's what I was told. This place gets hot in the summer, but the walls are fairly thick and the inside rooms were refreshingly cool when I was there. Notice the water coolers in the background.

These jars are found in a "room" at the Red Medrese (Kırmızı Medrese), constructed in the 16th Century by Emir Şeref ıbn Bedreddın. This particular "room" was the medical school. The school also taught astronomy, in addition to religious subjects.

The photo above was taken in one of the inside rooms, which served as the director's office. The brown furry things in the middle of the photo are bats, taking their afternoon siesta. They will leave at night and return to their resting place in the morning.

Here is the door to the mosque at the Red Medrese. The mosque is still in use.

Cizîr is not only the final resting place of Mem and Zîn, or the temporary resting place for bats, but it's also the final resting place for Noah. In Kurdish tradition, taken from the Quran, it is believed that Noah's ark came to its final resting place on Mount Cudî (Cudi Dağ). At one time there was a kind of shrine for Noah on the top of Mount Cudî, but I imagine that the TSK has pretty well bombed it into dust by now.

This is the entrance to Noah's Tomb. The entire building is covered with the tile work you see here. It's really quite beautiful.

This is the dome inside Noah's Tomb. Again, the tile work is spectacular. I didn't see any signs about the EU funding this.

Here's Noah the old boy himself. Given the size of the coffin, I suspect they actually buried him in the ark. When I remarked on this, I was told that people in those days were much bigger than they are now. Yeah . . . right.

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