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Zakho (district center) • زاخۆ • زاخو‎‎ • Zaxo

Zakho was founded in and has served as a checkpoint for many decades. Today, the town has 600,000 inhabitants and is an important town.

Some say Zakho is Aramaic for House of Victory, some, Kurdish for River of Blood. Both allude to its possible role as the site of some decisive battle in antiquity. The Greek warrior and historian Xenophon is thought to have passed through Zakho with his army of ten thousand mercenaries in BCE, coming under savage attack by the Kurds, or Carduchians, as he called them. Others have glimpsed a simpler, more timeless meaning, one better suited to a fairy tale. Zakho, they say, is Kurdish for Bend in the River. Sabar 2009, p 18

According to legend, it began on an island in the Khabur River which currently flows through the city. From Zakho, the Khabur flows west to form the Iraq-Syria and Iraq-Turkey border; after serving as the Turkey-Syria border, the Khabur joins the Tigris. According to the Bible, the Khabur riverbanks are one place where the Israelites were exiled. 1 Chronicles, 5:26; 2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11

Zakho stands on an island in the Chebar. It was formerly a populous and important town, but the barbarous despotism of its rulers has wasted the country and melted away the population. It has at present 150 houses, of which five score are occupied by Jews. Stern (1848), p 115

Nowadays, Zakho is a major marketplace and job haven because of its strategic position at the border. Many goods for all of north and middle Iraq flow through Zakho, and workers from Kurdistan, Iraq, Syria and Turkey can all be found here. Bederkhan / Sehid Salih Yousifi is the main thoroughfare.

Zakho has a diocese of Chaldea. It corresponds to the ancient Diocese of Maalta, formerly a suffragan of Adiabene or Arbela. Some Nestorian bishops are mentioned from the 5th CENT CE to the 7th CENT CE Chabot, Synodicon orientale, 676. It was reunited with the dioceses of Akra and Amadia until the middle of the 19th CENT CE when the province was divided into three dioceses: Amadia, Zakho, and Akra-Zehbar. The diocese comprises 3500 Catholics, ten resident priests, five religious of the Congregation of St. Hormisdas, fifteen parishes or stations, twenty churches and chapels, and one primary school.

Describing the river crossing to Zakho,

At low water the river can be passed by a flatting bridge, which, while I was there, was carried away at high tide. In passing over an accident occurred; we came into contact with the rocks; the distended goat skins burst, and goods and chattels were all in the water; and had to be fished out again, without however having sustained other damage than a wetting. Benjamin II (1859), p 65-66

Judaism in Zakho

I met with a friendly welcome in the house of Howoje Nahum, the president of the Jews. ... At dinner, the Chacham [Rachmim, the chief rabbi of Mesopotamia] solemnly affirmed to the that he had longed to see me, as he was anxious have some of our doctrines elucidated. He alluded to the passage in the Sohar (a book highly esteemed among Eastern Jews), where it is stated that Messiah is weeping n Paradise, on account of the sins of Israel; and properly observed, how could he ascend to heaven, if was not on earth? and, continued the Chacham, since we know that the family of David is extinct, the Messiah must either have come, or the whole is an emblem and phantom. He spoke this with such an animation and emphasis, as startled and deeply interested everyone. Stern (1848), p 115-116

After dinner, the Chacham, the rabbies of the town, and myself, read some parts of the Sohar. The words And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, which is paraphrased, the Spirit of King Messiah, struck them very forcibly as an argument in favor of our doctrine. ... All who were present began to speak and to think decorously and reverentially of our holy religion, which till now they had regarded as a system of refined Polytheism. Stern (1848), p 116

About 200 Jewish families live in this town; they support themselves partly by commerce with the neighbouring Kurds, or, as workmen, manufacture woolen stuffs and such like kinds of fabrics. They are mostly wealthy, but live in a state of great ignorance. ... Two Rabbis live in the town, of whom the one, Rabbi Schalom, is very rich, the second, Rabbi Eliahu, is well off. Benjamin II (1859), p 66

One day Mailum Eliahu summoned me to him on very important business, and on my arrival I found him leaving over the book Beth Joseph. He then told me, the a Jew, who went about in the different neighbouring villages with merchandise, had disappeared for some time. His wife considered him dead and wished to marry again. He, the Mailum, believed himself justified in giving the woman his permission; but he wished first to hear my opinion of the case. On this I remarked that as the husband might still be living, or have been obliged to adopt the Islam faith, and as in this case the women was under the control of her husband, she ought not to contract any new marriage, as it would not be legal. — To this the Rabbi replied, that the younger woman left alone, was exposed to the danger of forgetting herself. — On my further objection, that in our country no Rabbi would venture to decide such an important question without the advice of his colleagues. He replied that he was the chief Rabbi of the country; his orders were sufficient, and would be accepted and executed without further convocation or appeal. Thus it remained, and the woman received from him the permission of their second marriage. Benjamin II (1859), p 66-67

Then go visit the Jews; find them in the synagogue at their prayers; see the Rabbi, a venerable old man with a white beard; have been here 200 years; show me their Hebrew books, and a copy the law rolled up like a scroll. They gather around me with much interest; are pleased to know that I have been to Jerusalem; they come from all lands. Prime 1859, p 281;


Zakho has a population of 2,000; 1,500 Jews, 500 Moslems, 40 Christians. ... We are no in the Pashalic of Diarbekir. ... The Moodir is Shemdin Agha, a fine-looking Koord with a black beard. ... The Moodir very politely brings grapes, figs, pomegranates, etc., for our entertainment, and we spend a very pleasant evening, smoking chibouks and drinking coffee sociably together. ... After breakfast the Moodir calls and bings his little son, a fine boy, with his sword girt on. Prime 1859, p 280-281; -


Sheikh Ali Shrine

Bahnina Cave

Bahiri Cave

Gertrude Bell's photos



View of river

View of river and bridge

View from distance

View of fortress

View of neighborhood

View of Assyrians

View of soldiers

Gertrude Bell's diary

The hills were covered in vineyards:

In , the town was still almost completely within the island:

Gertrude Bell reports that Dominican monk Poldo Soldini was the first Christian missionary to the area. His tomb was still a site of pilgrimage in the 1950s.

Sabar 2009. My Father's Paradise.

Benjamin II, 1859

Prime, 1859

Prime, Samuel Irenaeus. 1859. The Bible in the Levant: Life and Letters of the Rev. C. N. Righter, Agent f the American Bible Society in the Levant.