Thousands of years ago today, well, 2013 years to be exact, legend goes, wise men set out from a town in the East at the apparition of a bright star in the night’s sky, and traveled West to Bethlehem. Some say there were only three of them: Kings Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior. Others say there were twelve of them, and yet others say they were not kings at all but scholars, thus wise men.
At the end of their journey they found a very special baby, and blessed him with three gifts – frankincense, gold and myrrh. Whether or not they were aware of the hard life, the imminent and continuous persecution that laid in store for the baby, his family and his followers, no one really knows. But the story goes, they did proclaim him The King. No one really can prove that these wise men, the three kings or the three magi, even truly existed. But what started off soon after their visit to a newborn and his mother, became a religion with one of the largest followers in the world. And the residents of a small town in Northern Iraq believe the Magi‘s journey started there.
An unconquerable fortress
The city of Amadiya, a historical Assyrian town in Northern Iraq, sits on the flat top of a mountain in the middle of a winding mountain passage. Due to its geo-strategic nature, built like a fort on a circular rocky formation – as if the top of the mountain was cut by a huge saw for the purposes of erecting a city on the spot – the place looks impenetrable. And this is one of the many things the residents of this historic town rightfully boast about, that despite trying, even the Ottomans couldn’t conquer the place for six hundred years. And it would never have been conquered, should the people not have chosen to accept Ottoman rule.
With its natural access to underground water, this may well be true. This is truly a self-sufficient fortress, one that dons any ruler’s dreams. However years and years of constant siege and war may become boring after a while, so the township may have decided to relent. Some of the historical gates date back to the Ottomans, and the mosque in the city marks the passage of Islam from this remote mountainous impasse.
Today a pilgrimage site and a tourist attraction in Northern Iraq, Amadiya is a true Middle-Eastern gem. The residents, a hospitable, courteous, and sophisticated group of people bend over backwards to make the visitor feel welcome. While resonating kindness in a humble manner, the Amadiyans are proud of their Assyrian heritage.
The town is a good example of a multi-faith existence. Having arrived there at a time when Christian Iraqis were being displaced by tensions in the predominantly Shiite Muslim South, the peaceful, civilized living conditions seemed like this place was Iraq’s best kept secret.
Sectarian violence for the Iraqis here in this town is something that happens elsewhere. The city is clean, its historic texture as best preserved – not perfect, but the effort and the honest intentions are certainly there. You do not see the jimble jamble of new concrete structures spurting out everywhere in Iraq with the new found wealth of lifted oil embargoes and trade here in this small town.
The narrow curving road climbing to Amadiya are packed with tourist buses carrying Iraqis looking for a break from the daily violence, bombs, kidnappings, murders take refuge here on touristic trips. Tourists pour in to the souvenir shops set on the way to the city’s gate, take pictures of the town from look out points set on the winding asphalt road to its West.
So, as the biblical story goes, wise men saw a star on a still night’s sky 2013 years ago today. They knew it was a sign of things to come, and they forecasted the birth of a child that would play a major role in bringing them on. So they set out in search of this child.
Born in such a multi-cultural setting, and praised by men of a faith not commonly recognized, makes one think, the true gospel of Jesus Christ must be that we are all equal and we can live together in peace: if someone hits you, you turn the other cheek. In today’s world of wars, greed and hunger for power the notion seems utopic.
But tonight of all nights, let us think what it would be like if it weren’t.