From Urmia to Jerusalem
Three-year course

Told by Ovadia Yedidya
Written by: Emanuel Bar-Haim

Yad Ben-Zvi archive, file 6/2/1/1
Posted in “Pe’amim” No. 5, 1980, pp. 87-93
Presented at Nash Didan website courtesy of Ben-Zvi Institute


I was born in Gavar, Anatelia, near Urmia, on the Turkish and Iran border. Around Gavar are tall mountains and they have no passage to a car or carriage, but only for horses and donkeys. The Jewish settlements in this area were (the number of families): Bashkale (150-170), Gavar (40-50), Urmia (250-300), Salmas (150), Delman (50), Narada (150), Shino (80-90), Savlah (200), Mianadaw (80), Sakaz (Serex) (100), Bokan (60-70).

The great majority of Jews were merchants, peddlers, owners of vineyards, fields, and sheep. These cities are new the Jews in them originated in Kurdistan. Their language is Aramaic and the local languages are: Kurdish, Turkish, and Armenian. Schools – rooms. Learn to pray. Books were received from Baghdad and Jerusalem. The connection with the land of Israel through messengers. At the time of the Declaration of “Huria” (Freedom), the turn of the Young Turks in the end of the first decade of the Century the prohibition on insulting religions was published. The security situation was relatively not bad. The pregnant women were registered in the census for tax payment and for issuing diplomas.

In 1914, the Jews began to recruit. Recruited all youngsters from the age of 18 to 25-26, during the second recruitment with the war they recruited by the age of 45. My uncle called the Turkish Consul (in Turkish-“Shevender”) in Urmia (Persia) to transfer mail without charge, so as not to go to the army and not to lose their trade business between Turkey and Iran. He was a paint smuggler to Persia – against the law. When the war broke out, the Russians at Urmia  surrounded by the Turkish consul and wanted to lower the flag. The consul was about to surrender but the others objected, and my uncle objected and shot the Russians. Finally they surrendered. The Russians hung the uncle together with 12 Muslim Hajs and arrested four other Turkish nationals and exiled them to Siberia. At night the Russians retreated, the Turks came and released the prisoners. Two months later, the Russians returned and all the Jews were Turkish nationals, and Ovadia family with them, fled across the Turkish border to the villages of Anatoia. It was in the winter. In the summer, the war approached Anatoia. We left Gavar with all the families, we rode donkeys and horses and mules, and we left the property behind, except for the cash. The Russians went into town, burnt the synagogue. The Cantor’s mother, who was 100 years old, was burned together with the book of the Torah.

All the Jews came under the auspices of Sayid Ata, A Kurd Sheikh who lived in Nevetzia, various villages in the mountains. We stayed there for half a year, and the war approached again. From Urmia only the men fled, but from Anatalia everyone fled  in fear of the Russians, who behaved very cruelly. To meet my mother, who remained in Urmia with her little children, I decided to return there. I wore shreds and walked about 12 days From Nevetzia to Shino and from Shino to Narada and to Urmia. I came home at night to my mother’s house, and I found them all homeless.

In the morning, they knocked on the door and demanded that I Come to an Armenian trader named Husparov. I appeared before him and saw that his shop was full of people. He asked me to sit down by his side and asked about my father and brothers. Then a young Armenian stood, shook my hand and asked with his mother and sisters, who were captive by the Turks. I was offered to get them across the border. I replied that they are under great guard and it is only possible if the Russians advance suddenly. They asked me a lot of things and I only answered a little. I received ten Tuman from them, and since then no one came to bother me.

Meanwhile the Russians approached Nevetzia. The families fled next to Musul. According to the information received from Iraq, there was hunger within the refugees. We wrote to my father and my brother to return. They began to return in winter, in a difficult snowfall, and were able to reach Narada the same time as the Turkish army. Then the army retreated, and they went back one days trip, There my elder brother was killed by a stray bullet, and my father returned to Narada.

In the meantime the revolution broke out in Russia, the Russians left the front and left their weapons to Armenians. The French also gave them weapons. There were wars between Persians and Armenians over controling Urmia. The battles lasted for three days and the Persians surrendered. A group of Armenians murdered and robbed the Jews and the Muslims and did not touch Kurds. The head of the Kurds Ishmael called Mar-Shimon the head of the Assyrians to come to him as a guest in Salmas, and as he gave him food and drink he shot him and his friends, about 150 Christians Assyrians, his bodyguards. The next day the Christians and Armenians rose over Kurdistan for a great wat, the Kurds began to flee and many were killed. The Jews, about 80 families, gathered in the synagogue in Salmas, the Armenians and the christians surrounded them, searched them, and then burned the synagogue with all the people, women and the rest within it. The heads of the Assyrians saved the Jews who were not in the synagogue. The riots lasted about nine months.

When father reached Ormiye, we decided to leave the environment. It was already in 1919, and in the meantime, information about the land of Israel began to arrive and rumors that there was a Jewish government with a Jewish king named Herbert Samuel. From Ormiye we went on a boat on the lake of Orwater and we reached Marga in Iran. Every two weeks there were several families out there. We stayed for two weeks in Marga, rented wagons and drove away through the mountains in the direction of Sarcas, a five-day walk. We were informed that a group of 25 families in our past was robbed by bandits to the shoulders of their skins, and it was time for the Iraqi rebellion against the English. At the head of the rebellion, Sheikh Mahmud Kurdish (Sheikh Mahmud Ben Sheikh Sa’id Barzali, eight first to Governor Slimania, and a rebellion in the British allies) was standing. We stayed in sarkes 6-7 months, a few families decided to return, but the majority ended up telling death and not getting back out of the way. We were 22-25 families. There was no committee there. The head of the witness, a good day of the merchant, hesitated to send us to the road, and we decided to work around the Medan, a month long walk in the wagons, instead of the short way in the mountains, a week’s walk to Slimania in Iraq. On the way to Hardan there was a government guard, and he had to pay with the “the” (skull tax) in each village and Kfar Saba. In the meantime, one Kurd came to a good day trader and promised him to move us safely to Slimania. We drove a day and a half. There was one Kurd in the village of her son and his name is the mataries. On the afternoon of Friday the late-night bandit approaches our guide and demanded that he give him all the animals, at least for two weeks, to make trees for the winter. The animal had gone with him and we were in a café on the way. The guide as if he agreed to deliver the beasts, and with this he gave us orders to go on the road at night and watch over the children who would not cry for no one to feel that we were escaping. We drove all night on Saturday until 12 p.m., and when we crossed the border we could dance and rejoice. We sat near the village of Kurd, bought food and parked it. At 2:00 p.m., our Kurds and our left, we handed them the white pot, and they continued to sit. We asked them why they were guarding us, answered, to let nothing happen to us. We went there and then sent us in peace and came to Slimania. There came a law that foreigners may remain in place 10-12 days. We stayed there for a month. We got to Slimania 12 families. We hired three donkeys to shoot, and we heard the Kurds say that we would be robbed at night. In various excuses, we received our money back and we built the town. The police came and told us: if you were out, the law forbids you to return. We couldn’t prove the intentions of Kurds. We turned down the trip for tomorrow. We’ve hired donkeys as much as you know. The police imposed Murray’s responsibility for his three-way. We went to Chinatown on the way to the king. We stayed two weeks in your village, from where we rented beasts to Capri, from where there is a freight train until Baghdad. In Baghdad they sent us on a ship to Basra. The Committee of Basra was treating us. We were about 40 families, fixed the visas and sent us on a ship to Bombay. Before us there was another group of 30 families.

We stayed for a year in Bombay, because it was not a requirement to send a non-lethal means to the country. At David Sassoon’s office, we made a sabbath strike that would send us to Israel. Information about lack of work came from the country, and many wanted to return to Baghdad, but father refused to return. From Mumbai we went to Calcutta, which was two weeks until we arranged Persian passports with the help of Jewish dignitaries (Judge Emanuel Cohen). From Calcutta, we went to Karakchi with a visa to Damascus. We took a ship ticket to Aden. The ship had 1800 pilgrims. In heaven they did not let us go down, and there was a danger of traveling with the Muslims for the Hajj: In the meantime we learned that we are Jewish, but our relationship was good.

We got to the jeep. They took us to his side. The Turkish officer asked me who and what I was. I told him all the hardships we’ve been through. The officer was excited and began to cry and to comfort us, respected me in the coffee and wished us well. The Indian pilgrims guarded us and didn’t want to give us to the Arabs. The next day, they brought us to Jenin and took us to the police and deposited guards on us. One officer wanted to get us into a devastated wreck and bruises it. There was one hoja who knew Hebrew, Armenian from Eretz Yisrael, and thought it to a Jew. One policeman brought us to a Jew, Marcus ‘ name, Spanish from Adana or Izmir. On the way, the policeman put bullets to his rifle and I was sure that I was going to be executed. In the evening, the officer sent the Armenian to take us to his house. We bought charcoal for eight cent. The Jews of Marcus told the whole thing to his wife, and she swore at him and encouraged him to help us. At night the Jew went to Kinmacam (the title of the local governor) and recommended us. In the morning he came to us with his daughter and invited us to him. We took off the objects and in the evening came with a carriage and brought us to it, respected us well, with food and water.
We stayed in the jungle for eight days. Marcus came up with the sheriff and 8 days later, when there was a ship, we paid all the money we had, 150 rupees, a clock and a mattress, and we came on a ship to Suez. In the hands of one Indian charged 200 rupees and he brought them back to us. In Suez, the committee arranged a visas for Israel, and we traveled through Centara and arrived in Jerusalem in Tamuz.

(Yad Ben-Zvi archive, file 6/2/1/1)

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