The Heirs of Patriarch Shaker

by Augin Kurt Haninke, Nineveh press, 362pp, £18

The Heirs of Patriarch Shaker is a history of the Syrian Orthodox Church – an autocephalous miaphysite body with a mostly ethnically Assyrian congregation – during the 20th century, the most trying period in its two millennia of existence. Augin Kurt Haninke is an Assyrian journalist and member of the Syrian Orthodox Church. His purpose in writing Heirs – the culmination of a journalistic career spent engaging with themes of ecclesiastical and political power – is to unearth the story of the Syrian Orthodox patriarchy and clergy’s navigation of the politics of the 20th century.

Haninke’s thesis is clear: Patriarch Elias Shaker (1867-1932) established a legacy of enthusiastic subservience to rulers hostile to the interests, dignity and identity of the Assyrian people.

In the wake of the First World War and the Assyrian genocide (1914-23), the old Ottoman system – founded on allocations of power granted to representatives of religious communities – was giving way to a centralised Turkish Republic.

The nationalism of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the founder and ideological guiding light of that Republic – required the eradication of cultural and religious complexity. In a speech in May 1924, Atatürk declared that “Orthodox and Armenian churches and Jewish synagogues which are based in Turkey should have been abolished with the Caliphate”. By 1928, all the Assyrian schools in Turkey, which were usually administered by churches, had been closed.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection