This faraway village outside Akre is famed for its pomegranates and its ruins. Shush legend states that Shush (aka Shushan, Ba Shosh, Showsh, or Showesh) was founded when the king of Akre relocated here, building a replica Kale, and indeed the similarities between the two sites suggests joined historical roots. Local lore is that Shush has a greater and higher castle than Akre's, but has a smaller area. It is thought to be continuously inhabited from CE onward. Shush had a Jewish quarter, and in it was home to more than 200 Aramaic-speaking Jewish families (early Assyrian converts to Judaism, or descendants from Assyria’s forced relocation programs). Jews fled between and during their exodus from Iraq.
In , there were three to five Christian families, and Rabban Babai built a school here. Fiey mentions that around , the valley was owned by the family of Ahmed Msihaya (Ahmed the Christian). Shush’s citadel was used by the Assyrians for protection during the Ottoman massacres in . Shush was attacked in by pro-government militia, and is absent in the Dominican map, indicating it was never resettled.
Currently, the village consists of a modern settlement sloping down to an orchard, at the very base of the mountains. To the east of this, a little higher up the mountain slope, are the ruins of the old village. Adjacent to these ruins are rock-carved palatial ruins that comprise the lower portion of Qalay Shush (Shush Castle). Adjacently, in a lush village, is the old Jewish quarter. No homes remain, though the old synagogue and spring are maintained. Overlooking all this, atop the tall peak over the whole village, is the upper portion of Qalay Shush (Shush Castle) and the Jewish-Islamic shrine at its heart.
As we had to pass several lofty mountains with deep ravines, I engaged some men to lead the animals, but notwithstanding this precaution, a packhorse fell down a precipice and was cut and lamed on almost every leg. At night we reached Shoosh, and made our abode in a grove of Olive trees. Stern (1848), p 120; route from Amedi to Shush on
Inhabited until the early 2000s, the old village is visible on the slopes above the new construction. Stripped of their electrical wires and left to collapse, the stone-built old village is mostly in bad shape. However, it is a memorable place to walk through and reflect. The ruins of a prominent, communal building are said to be the old mosque. However, its design and floorplan are unusual for a mosque and it was likely appropriated from the displaced Christians.
The old church is now in ruins. Said by locals to be the ruins of an old mosque, it feels completely unlike a typical mosque and its long halls and many niches instead recall the regional Christian architecture. It was most likely a church before the dissolution of the Christian community in the 1950s and 1960s. There is a known precedent for Christian churches and Jewish synagogues being appropriated by Muslims for mosques once the former communities were gone.
Association with King David
Notably, there are Arab Sabai people near Mosul, who hold King David in high regard.
The Diarna Project describes Shush (Shosh, שוש ,شوش) as once having all Jewish inhabitants, and maybe associated with the ancient city of Susa. This seems totally apocryphal, and surely from the local Kurdish tribes now living in Shush. Diarna also mentions that a
Rabbi Gadliyahu (died ) is associated with Shush, and that there were two tombs on the hill, one belonging to Uriah the Hitite (a biblical figure) and another whose name may be Nosah Kaliv. Diarna also says that during Passover, Jews would to Uriah's shrine on the hill to feast on lamb. Diarna says there may have been about thirty families in , which does not seem likely to me, but adds that they seem to have dispersed to these places in Israel: Kiryat Malachi, Beit Shean, Tiberias, Menucha, Ashbol. Diarna mentions
Joseph Samuel as a source, and Mordechai Yonah's Encyclopedia of the Jews of Kurdistan (אנציקלופדיה של יהודי כורדיסתאן) (p. 191). Yonah describes the synagogue as being ancient and with large stones.
Reverend H A Stern, 1848. Jewish Missionary Intelligence, Volume 14, Journal of the Reverend H A Stern.
Mention by Gertrude Bell.
Absolutely amazing resource.
When I visited in , the townspeople were wracked by suspicions. There was the standing suspicion of outsiders, journalists, and the like. And with the frontline of war nearby, there was worry always of ISIS members infiltrating. It did not matter that we were one Chaldean, one American, and one blonde Belgian; there have been European and American entries into ISIS, so everyone is a suspect. But there was a new suspicion: with the Turkish bombardments of PKK positions, there was worry not just that we were PKK, or foreigners sympathetic to the PKK, but that we would have unplanned encounters up in those mountains into which this remarkable village is built.