LADY SURMA D’BETH MARSHIMUN
Surma Khanum was born in Qudchanis, located in South East Turkey on January 27,1883 the eldest of eight children. Two of the eight children later became patriarchs, Mar Beyamin Shimun XXI and Mar Polous Shimun XXII. The Lady Surma’s education began at an early age with a focus on secular affairs, which included becoming fluent in the English language. Her teacher was Rabbi Doctor W.H. Browne of the Archbishop of Canterbury mission. In the truculent days ahead, her education, subsequent knowledge of western culture and the English language became a vital part of her work enabling her to serve the Assyrians nation. She was the official translator for both Mar Benyamin and Mar Polous. In the upheaval that faced the Assyrian nation, Surma Khanum accepted religious vows, in which she never married and abstained from eating meat. Instead, this was a sacred vow she had taken which she devoted her life to the Patriarch(s). Her deep knowledge and understanding of the Church of the East’s Liturgy as well as her acuity of statecraft earned her the role of trusted counselor and advisor to three patriarchs. Lady Surma was an acknowledged subject matter expert in the liturgy and cannons of the Church of the East.
Representing the Assyrian cause, Lady Surma’s accomplishments included traveling throughout the western world, having been received at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge and at Buckingham Palace, by HRH Queen Mary. The Lady Surma was the only woman in attendance at the League of Nations, representing the Patriarch of the Church of the East, the Assyrian people and her nation. In 1925 she was presented with the Order of the British Empire by HRH, King George V, a token she had repeatedly refused to accept. So much pressure was brought to bear that in the end she relented and accepted it unwillingly. She authored the book “Assyrian Church Customs and the Murder of Mar Shimun” written in 1920 when she was 35 years old which was later republished in 1983. She passed away on December 6,1975, approximately one month after the shocking assassination of her nephew, Mar Eshai Shimun.
Many people today labor under the misapprehension of the deeds, intentions and efforts of Lady Surma. From a young age, Lady Surma accepted the responsibilities thrust upon her and did so with her usual aplomb and unwavering dignity. Her unshakable faith in God’s will gave her the strength to put aside her own needs and fears at a time when her country desperately needed her unique brand of courage. It is significant to note that as a female in the male dominated worlds of the Islamic middle east, central Europe and the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, Lady Surma was accepted in her role as an ambassador for the Assyrian nation.
Always mindful of the esteem she felt the Assyrian nation deserved, she selflessly placed those needs above her own, serving her people with relentless determination, steadfast loyalty and uncompromising ethics.
Lady Surma’s place in history and her indisputable works for the Assyrian nation cannot be under estimated or undervalued. In the preface to her book, “Assyrian Church Customs and the Murder of Mar Shimun” written by His Grace Randall Cantour, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the following about her. “Surma Khanim has rendered to her people not the least of the services for which she will, in years to come, be held in grateful remembrance.”
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