Jewish life the in Syrian City of Qamishli

Azzra Jewish market

Jews have lived in the region of [1]Jazeera, Syria for a very long period of time. They had a prominent role in activating economic life and commercial activities in Qamishli, in the northeast of Syria. They built a special sooq named “A’zra’”, or the “Jews’ sooq”. The banner of the market is still there with the name of the sooq. It was kept there upon request of many locals living there. This sooq was built in 1927. After most of the Jews emigrated to Israel, America and Europe, theiry left properties went into the custody of a society named “Protection of Jewish Properties”, branch of Qamishli. This society used to invest these properties and send the money to bank accounts in Damascus before transferring this money to its owners in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The last group of Jews emigrated from Qamishli back in 1998.

Where did the Jews of Qamishli come from?

Historic sources state that Jews lived in Mesopotamia long time ago during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Documents emphasize that they lived on river banks, just like all other peoples in the area. They mainly settled near Tigris in Tal Half (Ghuzana), in Al Hasaka Province, Syria. Tal Half is located in the northeast of Syria, to the west of Ras Al Ain city, very close to the springs of Tigris river. Tal Half is a modern name of Ghuzana. Jews in the area lived like citizens under the rule of the powers ruling the region. Because they were very few, they used to live in cities and used to work in trade.

As for the Jewish life in Qamishli, it goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when the city was founded during the French mandate. But the Jazeera ration was populated by Jewish life even before. 500 years ago, they came from Mosel, Zakhu and Ben Amre Island in Iraq. They settled in Nessebeen and stayed there for years before they were displaced as a result of wars and pogroms of the Ottomans,thensettled in villages like Tal Sha’eer and Al Aujjah. When Qamishli was established, they moved to the city and worked in trade, jewelry and industry. Before emigrating to Israel, the US and Europe through Turkey, about 300 families lived in the city.

Jewish families that lived in Qamishli

Mr. Jameel Murad, over 90 years old, worked as a worker at one of the shops that was owned by a Jewish family. He told us about that period of time. He said that there had been 250-300 Jewish families living in Qamishli in 1933. Just like all other inhabitants of the city, most of their houses were made of mud. The family of Murad’s employer, the Semehyahu’s, had very close relations with the Kurdish families, living also peacefully in the city. Semehyahu’s used to visit them in Navkori and Rutku.

The Jewish family of Al Bier Nahum Azra’ who was one of the most respected and wealthy merchants of Qamishli. The family head established a special sooq for Jews in the city. The family of Beit Nahum was running a barber business and other families like Mushi Nahum, Suleiman Nahum, Mardo Mushi and Faraj Mardukh, neighbours of Mr. Murad, Sabri Mushi and the famous owner of the best herbs in town, Azra, opening his shop back in 1927, all lived peacefully together with Kurds, Christians and Muslims in the city of Qamishli.

Religious Jewish life in Qamishli

Jews in Qamishli had their own Synagogue located near the police station, not far away from Karbees Café in the city center. This synagogue was built in 1938 and was administrated by the Mukhtar, Sameh Elyahu. Jews in the city requested to the then Directorate of Education to award them a license to build also a religious school for their children. The school was approved and built in 1947-1948. It was managed by Anees Hana Medawyah. This temple is still there in the middle of the city, but now abandoned.

Inter-religious life in Qamishli

Mr. Murad emphasized that Jews in the city were always present at all social and religious occasions and celebrations like weddings or condolences. During such cerenomies, Assyrians, Christians and Muslims celebrated together with the Jews.. Jewish boys and girls used to naturally spend their time with their peers of other religions as if they were all affiliated with one religion.

Jews were founder and pioneers of commerce and trade in Qamishli

In 1927, Al Bier Nahum Azra established the Qamishli sooq and named it “Sooq of the Jews” after Jews who emigrated from Turkey to Qamishli and worked in trade. The name is still in use. This market was famous for spices, tobacco and all herbs related to Arabic medicine and sometimes to superstitions.

As for shops that are owned by Jews, there are different rumours about the ownership of shops and houses belonged to Jews. Some say that nobody is allowed to sell or buy these properties and that these real estates are still registered in the names of the former Jewish owners in the Real Estate Registry. The small old-fashioned shops are still there with their wooden doors decorated and fastened with nails which tell us about a beautiful historical period. These houses and shops are still existing as a monument of the Jewish presence in the city and their contribution to economic, social and cultural prosperity through the establishment of the sooq of the Jews.

Going back to the Real Estate Registry, the shops and house are still registered with names of their original owners. In Al Baheriah and Ashurian neighborhood, some mud-constructed houses are still there with their wooden roofs amidst modern building blocks, especially in Al Wostah neighborhood that is inhibited by Christians.

Christians are living in these houses for such a small amount of money. Some say that when Azra left the city to the United States of America, he sold his shop for low price in the 1980s. He set a condition that the new owner of the shop should keep the original name of the shop “Azra” on the door of the shop. The new owner agreed and the name is still there.

Reasons for Jewish emigration from Qamishli

No Jews are now living in Qamishli. The last group that emigrated from the city was in 1998. Few persons of the Abua Turk family stayed and died few years later. Like all other people, Jews were affected by political changes and wars which had been the main reasons for their emigration. Peace treaties between Israel and some Arab countries encouraged Jews to emigrate from the city.

Management of Jews’ properties in Qamishli

A society named: “Protection of Jew’s properties” owns the properties of Jews of Qamishli. This society is based in Qamishli and undertakes all rents and transactions of these properties including house, shops and real estates. It sends the money collected from these properties to original owners wherever they are. Money collected has been sent to banks in Damascus and then to different cities in Europe and the United States.

Jews’ shops are rented for 15000-18000 Syrian Pounds a month. Only 3000 Syrian Pounds used to be paid for each shop before the start of the Syrian Revolution. The number of shops rented is about 250 shops. As for houses, they are inhabited by Christians who pay such a little amount of money, compared with the value of Syrian Pound nowadays.

Conclusion

This is all that can be said about the Qamishli Jews. They had a great influence on the city and a visitor can still see and feel the Jewish heritage in the city, its buildings and economy.


[1] Syrian Jazeera is the name of the northeastern area of Syria, which includes three provinces: Al Hasaka, Rakkah and Deir Ezzour. This is the richest area of Syria, as there are many gas and oil wells and the large areas of fertile land. It is one of the provinces, which are under threat after US troops have left the area and Turkish troops invaded.


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