SOPURḠĀN, Neo-Aramaic Sipūrḡān, Assyrian village in the Urmia plain, situated on the Nazlu river, 26 km northeast of the city of Urmia (Razmārā, p. 262; Dehḵodā, s.v.) and 2 km from the edge of Lake Urmia (Mālik, p. 1; see map, Figure 1). Mīrzāʾ Dāwīd Gīwargīs Mālik claims that the name is not from Iranian (cf. Pers. sopur, designation of a functionary responsible for road cleaning; Moʿin, II, p. 1826; Dehḵodā, s.v.) but, rather, Assyrian in origin and means “the exposed edge of the lake” (Mālik, p. 1). The earliest mention of Sipūrḡān is found in a letter of Mār ʿAḇdīšōʿ IV to Pope Pius IV in 1562 (Wilmshurst, p. 349). The village is mentioned again in a manuscript donated to the church of Mārt Maryam in Jerusalem in 1612 (Wilmshurst, p. 332). Mīrzāʾ Dāwīd records evidence from tombstones in the village cemetery that point to an Assyrian presence in the village as early as 668 A.D. (Mālik, p. 2). The Assyrian inhabitants were divided into four main clans: Bēt Mālikēʾ; Bēt Mārūgūlēʾ; Bēt Qāšālōwēʾ; and Bēt Qāšāʾ Laʿzarēʾ (Mālik, p. 5).
Sipūrḡān served as the seat of the diocese of the Church of the East that comprised the Assyrian villages along the Nazlu river (Heazell, pp. 77-80; Maclean, p. 196). In 1840, American Protestant missionaries established a primary school in the village (Missionary Herald 36, 1841, p. 391). A Russian Orthodox survey of Assyrian villages made in 1862 reported 172 families and 2 priests living in Sipūrḡān and the neighboring village of Ḵānīšān (Sado, p. 58). An Anglican survey of 1876 listed 150 families, one priest, and one church, dedicated to Mār Gīwargīs (St. George), for Sipūrḡān alone (Cutts, p. 357). In 1883, the missionary Šamāšāʾ (deacon) Gīwargīs Dāwīd Mālik (1836-1909), a native of the village, established a girls’s school there (Malech, p. 390; Figure 2). In 1887, the Anglican mission established a middle school for boys below the age of 17 in Sipūrḡān under the name of St. George’s School (Coakley, p. 116; Maclean, p. 338; Heazell, p. 23). The sectarian divisions that developed among the Assyrians of the Urmia plain in the 19th century also affected Sipūrḡān. A Presbyterian congregation was established in the village following the formal separation of the Protestant sympathizers from the Church of the East in 1870 (Missionary Herald 66, 1870, pp. 189-91, 254-57, 402-3). Roman Catholic missionaries, who arrived soon after the Americans, claimed 350 adherents in Sipūrḡān by 1913 (Wilmshurst, p. 321). The Russian Orthodox mission of 1897 succeeded in wining over the bishop of Sipūrḡān as well as the majority of Assyrians of all denominations in the Urmia plain (Heazell, pp. 140-142).
The Assyrian population of Sipūrḡān in 1890 was about 1,800 persons divided among approximately 200 homes. There was also a small Armenian presence in the village amounting to 15 homes (Mālik, p. 4). Mīrzāʾ Dāwīd estimated that half of the inhabitants of Sipūrḡān were killed or died from hunger and exhaustion during the flight from Urmia in 1918 and that half of the survivors immigrated to Russia and the United States with the remainder ending up in refugee camps in Iran and Iraq (Mālik, p. 5). Those immigrating to Russia joined earlier Assyrian immigrants who had settled in Armenia and Georgia following the Russo-Persian War of 1826-28 according to the terms of the Treaty of Torkamānčāy, article XIV, which stipulated a one-year period during which legal immigration out of Iran to Russian-controlled territory was allowed (Hurewitz, ed., I, p. 235; Naby, pp. 446-47).
In 1934, 203 of the 2,327 Assyrians in Chicago identified Sipūrḡān as their ancestral village (Assyrian Chronicle, p. 11). The Young Sepurghans Association of Chicago (Figure 3) was formed as a social and philanthropic society to help Assyrians from Sipūrḡān in the Diaspora and those that gradually returned to their village in Iran. In 1950 the village had 338 inhabitants (Razmārā, p. 262) which declined to 250 persons in 1966 (de Mauroy, p. 305).
Assyrian Chronicle (Chicago) 3/30, 1934, p. 11.
J. F. Coakley, The Church of the East and the Church of England, Oxford, 1992.
E. L. Cutts, Christians under the Crescent in Asia, London, 1877.
ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, Tehran, 1946-75.
F. N. Heazell and Mrs. Margoliouth, Kurds & Christians, London, 1913.
J. C. Hurewitz, ed., The Middle East and North Africa in World Politics. A Documentary Record, 2nd ed., 2 vols., New Haven and London, 1975-79.
A. J. Maclean and W. H. Browne, The Catholicos of the East and his People: being the Impressions of Five Years’ Work in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assyrian Mission, London, 1892.
G. D. Malech, History of the Syrian Nation and the Old Evangelical-Apostolic Church of the East, Minneapolis, 1910.
D. G. Mālik, Bēt maʿmrāʾ w-šarbtāʾ d-mālikēʾ d- Sipūrḡān (The house and genealogy of the Maliks of Sopurqan), unpublished manuscript, 1922.
H. de Mauroy, “Chrétiens en Iran,” Proche-Orient Chrétien 24/3-4, 1974, p. 305.
Missionary Herald 36, 1841, p. 391; 66, 1870, pp. 189-91, 254-57, 402-3.
M. Moʿin, A Persian Dictionary II, Tehran, 1964.
Eden Naby, “Les Assyriens d'Union soviétique,” Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique 16/3-4, 1974, pp. 445-57.
Ḥ.-ʿA. Razmārā, ed., Farhang-e joḡrāfiāʾi-e Irān: Āādihā IV. Ostān-e 3 va 4 Āḏarbāyjān, Tehran, 1951.
S. Sado, “Nestorians of Urmia in the Early 1860’s,” Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society 6/2, 1992, pp. 49-59.
D. Wilmshurst, The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318-1913, Louvain, 2000.
(David G. Malick)
Originally Published: September 12, 2016
Last Updated: September 12, 2016Cite this entry:
David G. Malick, “SOPURḠĀN,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sopurghan (accessed on 12 September 2016).