Diyarbekir – Holidays and Festivals
Author: Sonia Tashjian, 27/11/20 (Last modified 27/11/20) - Translator: Simon Beugekian
The Armenians of ancient Diyarbekir/Dikranagerd fervently observed traditions. The ceremonies and festivals associated with various holidays were near and dear to their hearts. All such occasions were celebrated with great pomp, especially holidays associated with the church.
Being devout and pious, the Armenians of Diyarbekir often marked religious holidays, especially the five main Christian holidays, with pilgrimages to monasteries and churches. Large crowds would gather and travel to their destination on horseback, on the back of donkeys, in chariots, or on foot. These joyful caravans, like wedding processions, danced and played music along their way to and from the pilgrimage sites .
In his autobiographical book Mer Ayt Goghmeru [Those Parts of Ours], Mgrdich Margosian describes a pilgrimage procession to the village of Sat, consisting of the young and the old, men and women alike. This event was also particularly suitable occasion for the youth to interact with their sweethearts. The procession arrived at the monastery on Sunday evening. The firepits were immediately prepared, the cauldrons were filled with the meat of slaughtered animals, the fires were lit, and the adults gathered around the flames, murmuring prayers and occasionally reminiscing. In the morning, services were held to bless the food, after which the celebrations began near the spring. These lasted long into the night, at which point the pilgrims set out on their journeys back home .
Lole Night (New Year’s Eve)
The term lole was unique to the Armenians of Diyarbekir. It probably originated with the popular term lolo, which meant joy. When the Armenians of Diyarbekir said “today’s lolo,” it meant that it was a day dedicated to singing, dancing, and celebrations.
Like in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, people in Diyarbekir began preparing for this holiday a week prior to it, cleaning their houses and making the necessary purchases. Every family had to order Aintab halva and pasha leblebi [roasted chickpeas] for their celebration.
The dinner table on New Year’s Eve, the loleyi burgish, would be laid out on top of the tonir. In the center would be at least three and up to 10-12 chatal moums (forked candles). The candles would be arranged in a circle, surrounded by various types of delicacies, raisins, walnuts, grape leather, sujuk, kesme, figs, dates, leblebi, halva, gata, fresh and dried fruits, sweets, etc.
While the lole dinner was Lenten, it featured a diverse array of dishes. After the meal, the members of the family would gather around the tonir and sit around the korsi. This was an ancient custom that had taken root in Diyarbekir. The korsi was a wooden, low table, which was placed on top of the tonir, and covered with a thick, large sheet. Members of the family would sit on cushions on the ground, stretching their legs under the table, and pulling the sheet up to their shoulders. The man of the house would light a candle, and the lady of the house would offer drinks to the adults and khoshaf to the children. Sitting like this around the table, they would wish each other well and spend the night telling jokes, stories, and folk tales. The man of the house would often distribute gifts to the family. After the stroke of midnight, people would go on congratulatory visits to each other. In-laws would first visit the homes of their brides-to-be, carrying trays of sweets and gifts .
Deyaruntarach (Meled; Candlemas)
The Armenians of Diyarbekir believed that regardless of how cold a winter was, the city’s storks would return to their nests on Candlemas day (February 14). On that day, they would rush to church, and after services, would bring the “fire of Meled” to their homes. The youth would prepare special lanterns that would make it easy to carry the flame home. The locals would put out the other fires in their homes and keep this one flame burning in its lantern until the following morning, believing that it had great powers .
The fun-loving people of Diyarbekir celebrated Poun Paregentan (Real Paregentan) with great enthusiasm. Aside from local musicians, they hired Kurdish daul-zurna musicians to perform. If necessary, they invited drummers from Kharpert and Palu to play the large drums .
The Paregentan festivities began on the previous Thursday, on the day of the commemoration of the Vartanants Battle, which was also a school holiday. While the children played and enjoyed their day off, the women prepared for the celebrations. First, they would tidy up the home, so that there was enough space for all the guests. Then, they would begin cooking. First, they would prepare the dough for the choreg, so that it could be sent to the bakery. They would clean the meat for the pacha and begin boiling it; and pound the meat for the kofta. Over the next few days, they would prepare the rest of the dishes: muftoul, kabourgha, cheese kofta, etc.
It is no coincidence that the Armenians of Diyarbekir called Paregentan Sunday Badurman Giragi [Sunday of Bursting]. On that day, they would eat and drink to the point of bursting. They would joke that this was their way of making sure they would survive Lent, which began the following day.
Often, neighbors and in-laws would visit to celebrate. On this particular holiday, contrary to common practice, all would sit at the table together – the elderly, the middle-aged, the young, the teens, the children, men, and women. Wine would be served in buckets. It was a day of jokes, toasts, laughter, and joy.
After the meal, the revelers organized family games and people told stories until the arrival of the musicians. Then, they danced and celebrated until nightfall with gusto and abandon. After all, Lent would start the following morning .
Another interesting custom associated with Paregentan was called manafshalugh. On the holiday, newly wed grooms would be invited to have manafsha (a type of rose) tea .
One of the celebrated folk poets of Diyarbekir, Ohan Shirin, in his satirical poem Takarlama Shirati [Concerning the Great Lent], provided a description of the city during the Lenten days. He complained that he called this period “Satan’s fire,” and remembered the meals that were usually eaten, as well as certain unique customs. One of these was that women would wash the dishes with the cold water from a well. Another was that food would be stored under a wicker basket called mukbe.
Ohan Shirin, known as the Minstrel of Siroun, was a poet and philosopher born in Diyarbekir, presumably sometime in the 18th-19th centuries. He was not a physically attractive man, and was usually dressed in rags. He lived, created, and died in Diyarbekir. According to one theory, he was a cobbler by profession, but never practiced the craft, instead preferring to live the life of a dervish [itinerant]. He loved liquor, and most of his creative output was in the Turkish language. He never played an instrument while singing. Instead, he relied on his exceedingly melodious voice. He lived in a small, unremarkable earthen home. He wrote destans, sabahis, gazels, and other forms of verse which mostly focused on themes from daily life and featured Biblical motifs. He was also well-versed in Islamic texts and folklore. Shirin was incorruptible, just, and unbending in his censure. He commanded the respect of all nationalities and all classes of people .
During Lent, commonly eaten dishes included rice with shahra, halva with ashbabya, chickpea kofta, mulberry soup, bochov [tail] soup, shlabour, tarkhana [tarhana] soup, makhlouta, perper, olives, za’atar [thyme], pickles, etc. Instead of regular cooking oil, people used shirig (sesame oil) to cook .
According to the abovementioned poem by Ohan Shirin, the Armenians of Diyarbekir customarily performed the rite of confession on the eve of Easter, and afterwards received Holy Communion. On Easter Sunday, upon arrival at the church, worshippers would utter the phrase “Krisdos hariav” [“Christ has risen”] at the threshold and kiss the walls. After Easter service, the children would hold egg-tapping contests with their dyed eggs.
The Easter meal would include rice pilaf (with oil), fish, roasted meat, an entire sheep roasted in the oven, gololag (kofta) in yogurt soup, omelets with nettles, etc. As for sweets, the locals would enjoy kunefe, sweet cheese boreg, halva, and baklava.
Like in other parts of Ottoman Armenia, it was customary for people to visit the graves of loved ones on the day after Easter, which was Merelots Day [Day of Remembrance of the Dead], and to consecrate the graves with incense and candles. People would also leave food on the tombstones, which was collected and distributed to the poor.
Vidjagi Don (Ascension Day)
This holiday was celebrated 40 days after Easter, on a Thursday. On its eve, young girls would fetch water from seven springs or wells while singing “Vidjag, vidjag, vosgi godjag” [“Fortune, fortune, golden button.”] They would pour this water into a basin, and place leafy evergreen boughs and seven different types of flowers in the water. Each participant would also place a personal possession in the basin, which would then be taken to the roof and left there overnight. It was believed that the magic of the stars would be absorbed into the water. It was also believed that the flowers in the tub would whisper to each other and divulge their medicinal powers. Only the virtuous could hear these murmurs .
The following day, half an hour before dawn, the girls would gather around the basin, sitting on a rug on the floor. This was the start of the vidjag ceremony. A pre-pubescent girl would be chosen, and would be asked to look east. If she did not know which direction east was, it meant that she was still an “innocent child,” and could therefore be that day’s vidjeg arous [vidjag bride]. This girl’s head and face would be covered with a silk veil, and she would be instructed to plunge her hand into the basin, randomly select an object, and hold it in the palm of her hand. At this point, one of the participants would recite a vidjag quatrain – a stanza that revealed the fortune of the girl who owned the yet-revealed object. Once the prediction was recited, the vidjeg arous would remove the object from the water and hand it to its owner. The ceremony would be accompanied by exclamations, applause, joyful shrieks, and congratulations. The girls would rush to conclude the ceremony before dawn.
Thereafter, the girls would produce small vials of liquor from their pockets, and drink while congratulating each other. The lady of the house would offer bread and butter to her guests, while the girls would continue singing, celebrating, and discussing their vidjags .
Vartavar (Feast of Transfiguration)
As a city located in the plain of Anatolia, Diyarbekir has scorching-hot summers. Consequently, the Armenians of Diyarbekir celebrated this holiday, which is also associated with the worship of water, with great enthusiasm. The locals would set tables outdoors, on the banks of rivers and near springs, and would organize great festivities, with plenty of food, musicians, and singers.
Others, according to ancient tradition, would organize pilgrimages to the Saint Touman Monastery of Kuturbula. Some pilgrims even traveled as far as the distant Saint Garabed Monastery of Mush .
The Ascension of Mary (Khaghoghorhnek)
This holiday, celebrated in mid-August, held a special place in the hearts of devout Armenians in Diyarbekir. The prevailing custom was to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Virgin Church of Alipounar. Others preferred visiting the Partrstahayats Holy Virgin Monastery of Arzun. The meal of the day was harisa, which each family would prepare with the meat of a sacrificed animal. People would also donate the best of their grape harvest, piled on wheelbarrows, to the churches and monasteries they visited.
This holiday was celebrated in many ways. Pilgrims from different villages would come together in prayer and feasting and organize group dances and contests .
Khachverats (The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross)
Khachverats (in September) was another holiday that the Armenians of Diyarbekir celebrated with great religious reverence. Many pilgrimages were organized to the Saint Nshan Monastery of Agla, where worshippers spent several days, sometimes even an entire week. It was said that the medicinal powers of the monastery could even cure madness. Another site often visited on this holiday was the Toukh Manoug Monastery in the village of Sat. This site was a particular destination for pilgrims seeking cures for ailments of the eyes.
Each family of pilgrims would bring a pair of doves as a gift to the monastery. It was also customary to slaughter animals as sacrifices, prepare harisa with the meat, and share the meal with others .
-  Dikris Yearbook, Dikranagerd Compatriotic Union, 1946, Aleppo, p. 36.
-  Mgrdich Margosian, Mer Ayt Goghmeru [Those Parts of Ours], Istanbul, 1994, pp. 13-16.
-  Dikran Mgount, Amidayi Artsakanker [Echoes of Amida], volume 1, New York, 1950, p. 436.
-  Ibid., p. 49.
-  Dikris Yearbook, p. 11.
-  Dikran Mgount, Amidayi Artsakanker, p. 425.
-  Dikris Yearbook, p. 32.
-  Ibid., p. 37; Dikran Mgount, Amidayi Artsakanker, p. 331.
-  Dikran Mgount, Amidayi Artsakanker, pp. 427-429.
-  Nor Dikranagerd [New Dikranagerd] periodical, November 1939, number 2, edited by Yeghishe G. Debaghian, p. 10.
-  Dikran Mgount, Amidayi Artsakanker, p. 421.
-  Dikris Yearbook, p. 35.
-  Ibid.
-  Ibid.