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Dialect Details

Dialect: Qaraqosh
Community: Christian
Location: NW Iraq
Source: Geoffrey Khan

Further information about Qaraqosh


Qaraqosh is a small town that lies on the plain about eighteen miles east of Moṣul. Almost all of the inhabitants are Christian. The majority of the Christian population adhere to the Syrian Catholic denomination, the remainder being Syrian orthodox. In recent years a few Muslim families have settled in the town.
The present name of the town, Qaraqosh, is first attested in a source from the sixteenth century. It is of Turkish origin, meaning ‘Black Bird’, and was introduced either by the Ottomans after their conquest of the area at the beginning of the sixteenth century or by the Turkmen rulers of the region in the fifteenth century.
The local population, however, when speaking in their Aramaic dialect, still refer to the town by its older name, Baġdedə. The earliest historical attestation of this name is in a Nestorian Syriac source datable to the seventh century A.D., where it has the form Beṯ Xudaydad. In later Syriac sources it appears in a variety of forms that exhibit contractions of the early form, e.g. Bāxudaydā, Bāxdaydā, Būxdaydā. The Arab geographer Yāqūt refers to it in the form Bāxudaydā.
The name Beṯ Xudayda consists of a Semitic element Beṯ (‘place, home’), which is extremely common in place names in the area, and an Iranian element. The Iranian element is to be interpreted as meaning ‘given by God’ (Middle Persian Xudāy-dād). The fact that the name has this Iranian form suggests that it was introduced by the Sassanids, who were in control of the region between the third and seventh centuries A.D.
The gentilic form in the spoken dialect used today is ġdedaya ‘inhabitant of Baġdedə’, the initial element derived from beṯ being elided.
According to a local legend, the inhabitants of Qaraqosh were converted to Christianity in the seventh century A.D. by John of Daylam, a saint of Iranian origin. He is said to have defeated the idol known as Yay, whom the people used to worship at that time, and to have founded a church that was situated on the site of Mar Mqurtaya, a monastery that now lies in ruins about a mile outside of Qaraqosh. This account is clearly ahistorical. There is evidence that the town practiced Nestorian Christianity before the seventh century. Around 615 A.D. it changed its allegiance to the monophysite Jacobite church. This was part of a general wave of conversion from Nestorianism to Monophysitism that took place in numerous villages and monasteries in the region at the beginning of the seventh century. The conversion of Qaraqosh and various neighbouring monasteries to Monophysitism seems to have been largely due to the activities of a certain ShŒw´r, who was a zealous missionary for the monophysite church and is described in a Nestorian source as ‘the apostate of Beṯ Xudayda.
The legend of the conversion of the town to Christianity by John of Daylam has come down to us in a monophysite source, the author of which, out of tendentiousness, appears to have wished to ignore its Nestorian past. The narrative of the legend that the author uses, moreover, was originally set in Iran rather than in the region of Mo§ul and a number of the topographical references do not correspond to Qaraqosh and its environs.
In the eleventh and early twelfth centuries many Christians from Takrit settled in Qaraqosh. Already at the end of the tenth century, the Christians had begun to leave Takrit on account of religious persecution. By the end of the eleventh century the situation came to a head and the remaining Christian community was forced to flee or convert to Islam. The monophysite primate, known as the maphryan, who had his seat in Takrit, settled in Mo§ul. The size of the wave of immigrants from Takrit who settled in Qaraqosh is unknown, but their arrival appears to have brought about a major demographic change. The Takriti immigrants evidently enjoyed a certain social prestige, no doubt on account of the erstwhile status of Takrit as the seat of the maphryan and also due to the material wealth of many members of the community. The impact of this immigration was such that a local tradition developed, which is still current today, that the entire population of Qaraqosh is descended from the Takriti settlers. Several families in Qaraqosh today, moreover, still claim to have ties of kinship with Muslim families in Takrit, whose ancestors were converts from Chrisitianity.
Little is known about the history of Qaraqosh in the ensuing centuries, except that it suffered numerous pillages and massacres. It was not spared the devastation of the Mongols and the Tartars in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The greatest blow to the town, however, was dealt by the Iranian ruler NŒdir ShŒh in the eighteenth century in the course of his campaign against the Ottomans. In 1743 his soldiers ransacked the town and burnt its churches. Most of the inhabitants took refuge in Mo§ul, which was successfully defended against the army of NŒdir ShŒh by its governor îusayn Pasha al Jal¥l¥. As a recompense for his defence of Mo§ul, the Ottoman sultan granted îusayn Pasha and his family the property rights of the town of Qaraqosh. In the years that followed, a series of protracted lawsuits were brought by the inhabitants of Qaraqosh against the claim of ownership of the town by the descendants îusayn Pasha. A decision in favour of the inhabitants of Qaraqosh was finally made by the courts over two hundred years later in 1954. This long episode in the history of the town was known by the term ḥukm Qaraqosh ‘the governance of Qaraqosh’.
Catholicism was brought to Qaraqosh in the middle of the eighteenth century. Syrian Catholic missionaries first established themselves in the town in 1761 when they set up an altar in the shrine of the martyrs that is attached to the Church of St. George. Certain groups of Jacobite Christians in Syria had entered into union with Rome already in the middle of the sixteenth century, but Catholicism did not spread to Iraq for another two centuries. The Catholic missionaries soon had many followers in Qaraqosh and around 1770 one of its churches, the church of St. James, was given over to the Catholic community. By 1837 the majority of the population had become Catholic, as is the case today, and most of the remaining churches came under their control.
The inhabitants of Qaraqosh suffered various natural disasters during the Ottoman period, the most devastating of which were a plague in 1773 and a famine in 1828. In the twentieth century a large number of people left the town to settle in the Iraqi cities in order to seek higher education and employment. In recent years, the deteriorating economic and political situation has led many inhabitants of Qaraqosh to emigrate abroad, mainly to North American, England and Australia. This trend increased dramatically after the Gulf War in 1991.


General remarks about the dialect

General remarks
about Qaraqosh

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