Mar Benyamin (Benjamin) Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch, XXI, was born in Qudchanis, Turkey in 1887. Ordained Metropolitan at the age of sixteen on March 2, 1903 by his uncle Mar Rowil Shimun, Catholicos Patriarch XX, Mar Benyamin later succeeded him. Mar Rowil passed away on March 16th of that year and on March 30th Mar Benyamin was consecrated Catholicos Patriarch by Mar Iskhaq (Issac) Khnanishu, Metropolitan, and Mar Estapanos (Stephen), Bishop of Gawar. Mar Benyamin was known for his fair-minded adjudication of all, Assyrian, Turks and Kurds alike.
Mar Benyamin’s Patriarchal tenure occurred during one of the most turbulent eras of modern Assyrian history. The rancor and upheaval by the Kurds, opposing governments, foreign missionaries and conflicting religious ideologies created an almost hopeless situation for the Assyrians and Christian minorities of the Hakkari region. Over the ensuing years and in spite of these difficulties, Mar Benyamin’s unrelenting persistence and fighting spirit sought to lead his nation to what he had believed was a safe outcome, escaping through the rough mountain terrain and into Urmi, Iran. Always on the alert to possibilities to restore stability and safety to the Assyrian, Mar Benyamin’s integrity and ethics were constantly tested, most poignantly at the expense of his own brother, Hormiz. The honorable Hormiz, the third brother of Mar Benyamin was attending University in Istanbul. In an attempt to bend the Patriarch to its will, the Turkish government kidnapped the Honorable Hormiz in and threatened his life. Mar Benyamin’s courageously responded that Hormiz was but one brother while all Assyrians were his children. His moral core forbade him from surrendering to the Turkish demand, for which he refused to sacrifice his entire nation to save one person. Mar Benyamin’s punishment for his defiant act was paid by the Turkish government when they killed the Honorable Hormiz, who paid the ultimate price. He was hanged publicly in Mosul, with his body left in full view all day.
Tragically, Mar Benyamin was forced to make one of the most difficult decisions of his administration and his life in which he sacrificed his beloved brother for the safety and honor of Assyrians in an attempt to secure their future.
His unflagging work did not cease at the heartbreaking loss of his brother. To bolster the position of the millat (nation), the Patriarch sought help from Russia. For a time, Assyrian forces fought alongside their Russian counterparts and it was hoped that the Czar’s government would provide our people a settlement. Sadly, the sought after haven did not materialize and the Russians had departed. However, they still wished to show their gratitude for the Assyrian ferocity in fighting the Kurdish-Turkish forces in Hakkari the year before. On October 25, 1917, two hundred St. George medals, grade four, were delivered to Patriarch Mar Benyamin to distribute to fighters who had shown valor at that time. In addition, the Patriarch was decorated with the Order of St. Anna and promised an additional order, one so important that only the Czar himself could bestow it. Unfortunately, the October Revolution prevented his receiving the second decoration.
As the Assyrian nation settled into Iran from the arduous trek, Mar Benyamin’s honor was again tested. Through the urgings of others Mar Benyamin was encouraged to meet with Simco, the Kurdish warlord, under the false pretenses of forming an anti-Turkish alliance. Reluctantly, Mar Benyamin felt he had little choice and again, with the Church and Assyrian nation’s needs in mind, he accepted an invitation from Simco in Kuinashahr to discuss the proposed alliance.
Patriarch Mar Benyamin prepared to set off in his carriage accompanied by one hundred fifty armed horsemen. Many people pleaded with him to reconsider. Among them Armenians, Assyrians and his own brother Dawid, Rab Khaila (Commander in Chief) of the Assyrian forces. In keeping with the charade, the Patriarch was received with the honors commensurate to his position by Simco and his men. Once their meeting concluded Mar Benyamin was seated in his carriage, surrounded by his attendants. At that time, Simko and his men opened fire and killed the Patriarch and most all others with him.
Mar Benyamin’s sister, Lady Surma wrote in her book, Assyrian Church Customs and the Murder of Mar Shimun:
“As Mar Shimun drove up to the house in Kuinashahr, where he was to meet with Simko, we saw that there were many men with rifles on the house roofs, but we considered that they had just gone up to see us. Simko came out to meet the patriarch, received him with all honour, and conducted him into the house, where they drank tea together. Mar Shimun spoke with the utmost frankness to the Agha with Simko about peace, saying, “I assure you in all honesty, that we have not the least intention of doing any harm in Persia, or of carving out a place for ourselves in it. We only wish to defend ourselves from the attacks of the Turks,” and so on. Simko then replied, asserting his complete agreement with the idea,
Some 150 individuals had accompanied His Holiness to this encounter. Less than ten of them survived the slaughter by hiding under their fallen comrades until nightfall. They then escaped to report on this tragedy. At the same time, the assassins were also in pursuit of Rab Kaila Dawid, brother of the Patriarch. However, he managed to take cover in the church of our Armenian brothers and he sent out his worry beads as a silent message of his safety to his family. Thanks to the bravery of Daniel Malik Ismail and a few of his men, the body of the Patriarch was retrieved. It was noted that in the few hours while the Patriarch’s body was left unattended the Patriarch’s ring and his cigarette case had both been stolen.and the patriarch rose to depart. Simko escorted him to the gate, and kissed his hand, and his horsemen were ready to conduct us on our way. Mar Shimun and I then took our seats in the carriage, when suddenly a shot was fired at him; this was followed by a volley from the roof, from the windows, and in fact, from all sides.”
Mar Benyamin Articles
- Letter from Mar Benyamin (including translation) from February 1912
- Mar Benyamin Shimun, The Visit of Patriarch Mar Benyamin Shimon to Timat, By Solomon (Sawa) Solomon, Nineveh Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 3, Third Quarter, 1996
- A Short Biography of Mar Benyamin Shimun XXI, by Rev. Joel E. Werda, B.D., Nineveh Magazine, Vol.4, No.3, Third Quarter, 1981
- Mar Benyamin Shimun, XXI, Catholicos Patriarch biography (Arabic) developed by and posted at Khabour.com
- Excerpt from Our Smallest Ally, Rev, W.A. Wigram, D.D., The Assyrian Star, Vol. 26, No.4, July – August, 1977
Mar Benyamin Videos
- The Assassination of Mar Benyamin Shimun XX, Catholicos Patriarch excerpted from The History of the Assyrians in World War I + II or Atouria Tre Plasheh Tee Wee Lai Yah by Yacoub Malik Ismail.
- Tribute to Mar Benyamin Shimun XXI, created by Robert Khnanisho
Mar Benyamin Audio Clips
- Mar Benyamin Dirge sung by Eglanteen Warda, in the Syriac language. Lryrics by Sophia Kajarian, and music by Ninos Patros
- Mar Benyamin, Memorial Dirge by Rev. Barkho Oshana
- Shlama L’Rookhokh Mar Benyamin Hymn written by Deacon Yousif Nooro and sung by Mrs. Jina Nanno Kena
- La Pashmeeton Mookhebby Hymn written by Deacon Yousif Nooro and sung by Mrs. Jina Nanno Kena
- Mar Benyamin Kahana Qadeesha Hymn written by Deacon Yousif Nooro and sung by Mrs. Jina Nanno Kena
- Interview with Edward Nadirsha hosted by Emanuel Isho in memory of the assassination of Mar Benyamin (2014)