Dehi, Iraq

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Old picture of the village

Dehe (Syriac: ܪܗܐ) is an Assyrian Christian village located at the western end of Mateena Mountains and in the valley that separates Sapna and Barwali Bala districts, in the Dohuk Governorate of Iraq. The nature of the village is mountainous; therefore the areas of fertile soil were less available for farming. But nevertheless there are plenty of fruit trees.

With its houses and white church, the village of Dehe lies where the two rocky mountains of Matina and Khabour join amid a green valley some 40 km to the north east of Duhok.

Dehe has an ancient history which goes back to pre-Christianity times. This is attested by the existence of ancient remains. It was also a centre for churches, monasteries and religious during early Christianity. The remains of those churches and monasteries are still standing in the outskirts of the village such as the churches of Mar Qayouma, Mart Shmooni, and Mar Gewargis. Monks’ cells, on the other hand, are found in abundance it the mountain of Matina.

What distinguishes the village most is the olive tree, vineyard, and apple orchards. It is almost the only village in the area where growing olive tree is the main profession of the inhabitants.

Apparently, the village used to be prosperous with a large population during old times, perhaps for its remarkable situation, because unlike the other villages in the area, it enjoys a mild weather and a few snowfall during winter. This is evident from the ruins of nine watermills in the town along the valley which the inhabitants think used to provide the area with flour.

Dehe also enjoyed importance and much care during the first half of the 20thcentury when the there were more than 80 houses in the village. It also had health care, cultural and religious centres. The American missionaries also built a large three-story school in the village for teaching Syriac and other sciences. The school used to be there until late 50s of the last century.

Mr. Sarkis Aghajan restored life to the village when he it was covered by the reconstruction campaign he launched. The Higher Committee for Christian Affairs (HCCA), on his instructions and support, built 56 new houses in the village which was linked to a water supply system and provided with two power supply generators.

There are ruins of a very old church on the top of the mountain overlooking the village and it is believed to be built some 1400 years ago. Big stones are the only remnants of this church, which is called Mar Qayoma. Residents of Dehi believe that their village was built at the same time this ancient church was founded. Legend has it when Muslims would attack the village, the villagers would escape to the top of the mountain where the church lay, and throw the many stones present to defend themselves. In David Wilmshurst's "The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East 1318-1913", the author states that the village of Dehe existed well before the fourteenth century along with other East Assyrian villages in the Sapna valley.

Accounts from members of the village state that Catholic missionaries worked among the villagers to convert them, missionaries would have most likely been Dominicans who worked among neighbouring villages to the west. Dehe, however, has always been a Nestorian village. Catholicism might have taken hold in a few families in the village, but this would have had little impact. The village was under the jurisdiction of the Abuna patriarchs at Alqosh well until the 17th century, after that it becomes a key Sapna village in the Diocese of Berwari loyal to the Shimun patriarchs and it is classified as a traditionalist village by Wilmshurst. The village church is dedicated to St. Shmuni and her seven sons. The church has been standing for well over 600 years, and has constantly been conserved and preserved throughout the centuries.

Badger writes that in 1850 there were 10 families in the village. According to the 1957 census, the village had a population of 292 people. One hundred families lived in 44 houses built of Basalt and before 1961, it used to have a population of 615. Like other villages, Dehe was subject to destruction and pillage; it was razed to the ground four times since 1961. The last such destruction was in 1988. After 1991, 20 families were recorded to reside in the village. Currently 35 families live in the village. Some families returned to the village after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, while others are rebuilding homes in the village as summer vocations.

Members of the village moved to the cities after the British mandate ended, a large community used to exist in Baghdad, Iraq. Currently 95% of the villagers worldwide are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, with 5% being members of the Ancient Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church.

The Armenians of Dehi

Mart Shmony Assyrian Church

As a result of the Armenian Genocide during the First World War, many Armenian convoys fled to Iraq and Syria seeking security.

The Armenian refugees who fled to Iraq in this phase came from two Armenian regions:

First part: Refugees from the Armenian village of Dehi, which is located in the middle between Sharnakh and Saart. Dehi had 700 Armenian families before the genocide. They were massacred by the Ottoman and Kurdish troops during World War I. Only 40 families escaped and fled to Iraq to settle down in Zakho. By the 1970s, the village was built again and there were about 180 Armenian families in the village of Dehi.

Today there are no Armenians in Dehi. Many of them moved from Zakho to other Iraqi cities. Most of them migrated to Europe in the last decades. Most of them are now in the Netherlands in the region of Almelo. The entire population is now Assyrian.

See also

List of Assyrian villages