Notes on the Armenian Village of Satou-Kegh in Diyarbakir

Recently, in connection with the historic re-dedication of Surp Giragos Cathedral in the city of Diyarbakir, my dear friends George Aghjayan and Khatchig Mouradian had the opportunity to visit one of the nearby villages, formerly inhabited exclusively by Armenians and now called Sati Koy. Mouradian, who wrote an article about his visit to Sati Koy, asked me to provide some background information on both the village and the famous monastery whose building is still standing today.

The Toukh Manoug Sourp Khatch Vank, now a mosque (Photo by George Aghjayan)

The village of Satou-Kegh is located approximately eight km. east by southeast of the historic city of Diyarbakir (anciently called Amid or Amida, and referred to by the local Armenians as Dikranagerd), across the Tigris River. As the Tigris flows southward past the black basalt walls of Diyarbakir, the river bends sharply to the east. The village of Satou-Kegh is located within the grid area shaped on the west and south by the stream of the Tigris River.

The area is still primarily agricultural. The village of Satou-Kegh is directly connected to the Tigris by a stream, and is surrounded with ponds and reservoirs that improve the irrigation of the arable land.

Until 1915, according to Teotig and his use of a 1911 census prepared by Bishop Zaven Der Yeghiayan (later the Patriarch of Constantinople), Satou-Kegh was one of approximately 20 villages that comprised the eastern district (Arevelyan kyooghakhoump or Sharq Nahiye) of the immediate metropolitan suburbs of Diyarbakir. The eastern district itself was further divided into two sections. The western section was closer to the eastern bank of the Tigris, and was locally administered by the town of Ktrbul (or Kitilbil); the eastern section was further away from the river, and was locally administered by the town of Baghchedjik (Bahcecik).

Teotig indicates that Satou-Kegh was located in the section administered by Ktrbul. The village was inhabited exclusively by Armenians, and contained about 70 households. The village housed a famous monastery (vank). The monastery housed an equally famous chapel and shrine. Consequently, the name of the complex included both names: Toukh Manoug Sourp Khatch Vank, which is to say, “The Monastery of the Holy Cross and of the Dark-Skinned Youth.”

In the Armenian Church, vank refers to a religious community. Properly, scholars employ a Greek term, koinobia, to describe “communal life”; in Latin, the word is spelled cenobia, whence the French couvent and the English convent (although the term today is usually reserved to describe a residence for religious women, it is equally appropriate for religious men). Throughout Armenian history, the size and location of a vank varied. In some places, the vank was quite small, with perhaps just one resident monk and a handful of laity to assist in the daily operations, while in other places, the vank was filled with monks and held jurisdiction over hundreds of acres of adjacent land.

The entrance to the church complex (photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

The ancient monastery of Sourp Khatch Vank was responsible for the spiritual ministry of Armenians living in the immediate vicinity of the western section of the eastern district of metropolitan Diyarbakir. Many of the farms, vineyards, orchards, timberlands, and water sources belonged to the vank, and therefore many of the Armenians who lived in the area also worked directly for the monastery. The resident vartabed (priest) at Sourp Khatch Vank was the immediate superior over the priests in the following villages:

Ktrbul (22 Armenian households)
Irinidjil (25 Armenian households; exclusively inhabited by Armenians)
Kabasakal (5)
Kavseh (1)
Kabi (19)
Anshay (9)
Kara-Bash (10)
Mezreh (4)
Sharrabi (6)
Kadi-Keoy (5)
Yabadji (4)
Ayn-Gevri (2)
Satou-Kegh (70; exclusively inhabited by Armenians)
Khudur-Eliyas (1)
Holan (4)
Arz-Oghli (27; exclusively inhabited by Armenians)

The 16 villages contained 214 Armenian households. Three villages were exclusively inhabited by Armenians, while some also included Syrian Orthodox Christians (called Asori by the Armenians), and others included Muslims of various ethnicities and sects.

Part of the church structure which has been converted to a mosque (photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

The Armenian Church Primate for the province of Diyarbakir was usually a bishop who lived within the city, but he relied upon local vanks and resident vartabeds to administer specific districts and sections throughout the province.

It is unclear when Sourp Khatch Vank was established. In the “Dictionary of Topographical Names of Armenia and the Surrounding Regions” by Hakobyan et al., printed in Yerevan in 1998, a colophon is cited that reads: “In 1635, when Parsegh was the prelate of the Vank, the Lady Mariam donated a hand-written Gospel-book.” Rev. Dr. Hamazasp Oskian, of the Mechitharist Order, compiled a multi-volume study of all the monasteries of Armenia. In the volume that details Diyarbakir (Vienna, 1962), he indicates that the Sourp Khatch Vank was still a pilgrimage destination for the people in and around Diyarbakir until recent times (presumably 1914, though perhaps also visited sporadically in the decades since then).

Because the vank was dedicated in the name of the Holy Cross, local Armenians specifically made vows and went on pilgrimages to that monastery on the Feasts of the Holy Cross. These include the Feast of the Exaltation (called Khatch-verats) in mid-September; the Cross of Varak, at the end of September; the Discovery of the Cross (called Kyood Khatchi) in late-October; and the Apparition of the Cross (called Yerevoumn Khatchi) on the fifth Sunday following Easter. The vank was located about three hours’ walking distance from the city of Dikranagerd/Diyarbakir, and many pilgrims would make a long weekend of their visit, camping under the stars.

Inside the walled compound of the vank was the monastic chapel, dedicated to a special saint in the Armenian Church. He is usually referred to by the nickname Toukh Manoug, which may be translated as “the dark-skinned youth” (in Turkish-speaking regions, Kara-Oghlan). According to the Synaxarion (which contains the martyrologies of all Armenian saints, arranged by date; it is called the “Haysm-avourk” because each entry begins with the phrase “Haysm avour,” meaning “On this day”), the dark-skinned youth was originally named Athenadoros. He was the son and only child of Souren and Aghvita (Albita), who were of the Salahouni dynasty and members of the Armenian nobility. They lived during the third century on a vast family estate located in the region of Eriza (later called Erzingan), and were polytheists in their religious observances.

A local kid watched as Mouradian and Aghjayan take photos of the church. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

Aghvita was a charitable lady, and she dedicated a part of the family’s property and assets to establishing a sanitarium for people suffering with mental disabilities. Eventually, the sanitarium grew so large that there were nearly 40 people on the staff, assisting more than 100 patients. One of the staff members, Dasios, was also a Christian and a priest. Owing to the bloody persecution of Christians by the polytheist Armenian nobility during the third century, Dasios had to maintain secrecy regarding his faith. At the same time, he was able to convert many of the staff members and even many of the patients to Christianity.

By the time Athenadoros was in his late teens, although he enjoyed a privileged life and acquired a superior education, he appeared to suffer in his soul. His parents took him to various medical doctors, but to no avail. Athenadoros sunk further into despair. One day, he happened to meet with Dasios at the sanitarium, who described how Jesus Christ had cured the sick, both physically and emotionally. Dasios talked to Athenadoros more and more about Christianity, and as a priest, Dasios offered prayers for the healing of the young man. Eventually, Athenadoros emerged from his troubles and asked to be baptized as a Christian by Dasios. Upon his baptism, his name was changed from Athenadoros (meaning, “given by the goddess of wisdom, Athena”) to Theodoros (meaning, “given by Almighty God”).

Theodoros began to secretly attend church services. His father, Souren, noticing Theodoros’ absence from the polytheist temple, confronted his son, who at first did not reveal his conversion to Christianity. Souren did not desist from interrogating his son, however, and ultimately learned the truth. Enraged, Sourenrage began to hit his son, first with his fists and then with a wooden rod. After the bloody, terrifying assault, Theodoros fled from the house and hid in one of the secluded glens.

Souren pursued him, shouting “Athenadoros! I order you to come out!” After some time, Theodoros came out of his hiding place, and as calmly as he could, said to his father, “I am a Christian. My name is now Theodoros. I worship one God in heaven.” Souren exploded. He knocked his son down to the ground, and seized his long, dark hair. “I am your father!” he screamed, “and I command you to abandon this nonsense and sacrifice to the gods and goddesses!” Theodoros tried to remain still, but opened his mouth and began to pray “Our Father …”

Souren tightened his grip on his son’s long, dark hair, and wrapping it tightly around his hand, drew his sword and, without mercy, slit his son’s throat and severed the head right off the young man’s body. Souren then threw the head down the gulley, and left his only son’s corpse lying on the spot.

How can anyone describe the sorrowful grief which then consumed Aghvita? History does not provide specific details, but we can assume from the rest of the story that she left Souren because of the heinous murder of their only child. Aghvita asked Dasios to properly bury both the body and the head, though she asked that a lock of her son’s dark hair be preserved. After the burial, a beautiful miracle occurred. A bright stream of light emitted forth out of the sepulcher, and shone throughout the valley. Other people, who heard of the crime and believed in Christ, brought their own children who were suffering from diseases to visit the gravesite. Through their faith and prayers, many of the children were restored to physical and emotional health.

Theodoros was martyred on May 11, 296. Within a few short years, after Christianity was established as the national faith of Armenia at the beginning of the fourth century, Saint Gregory the Illuminator made arrangements for a church to be built on the very site of the martyrdom of Theodoros. Later, Aghvita was buried in a grave near the entrance to the church, and later, Dasios the priest was buried adjacent to the church.

As Christianity spread throughout historic Armenia, hundreds of chapels were built and dedicated to the Dark-skinned Youth (Toukh Manoug), and countless thousands of Armenian parents made pilgrimages to these shrines to ask God’s mercy upon their sick children and to thank God for the restoration of their children’s health and wellbeing.

Returning to Satou-Kegh, it is only my supposition that the name of the village was derived from the famous chapel of Sourp Toukh Manoug: “sourp” morphed into “sa” and “toukh” was shortened to “tou”. The word kegh is actually a Classical Armenian word for “village” (the word kyoogh is Modern Armenian).

The Sourp Khatch Vank and the chapel of Toukh Manoug located in the village of Satou-Kegh to the east of historic Dikranagerd/Diyarbakir were the destinations for pilgrims for many centuries. We shall never know how many faithful from the vicinity sought comfort and cures by making a vow and visiting this important shrine. In recent years, the base structure of the venerable Armenian vank has been converted into a mosque. There is, however, one Armenian still living in the village, and he confirmed the name and location of the chapel from his own memory as “Toukh Manoug.”

I hope that many Armenian parents will read about the martyrdom of Toukh Manoug, and might prayerfully reflect upon their own relationships with their dark-haired children. In this modern age, it is difficult to imagine that any situation between parents and their children should be resolved using verbal and physical violence. And yet, sadly, Armenians are notorious for their hot tempers, and more than any nuclear bomb, the sharp tongue and the cruel slap of an Armenian parent can be the worst weapons of mass destruction. Please be prudent. It is true that the Armenian Church gained one more martyr with Theodoros, but in reality, the Salahouni Family lost their only child through ignorance and violence.

Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian

Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian

Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian graduated in 1982 from Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, and with a triple major of Political Science, Economics, and Public Law. He received faculty, departmental, and collegiate awards and honors for his academics. From Claremont, George enrolled in the law school and then the business school at the University of San Francisco, and completed his joint Master’s Degrees with honors in 1985. In 1986, he enrolled in theological studies, and by 1989, he completed both a Master’s and Doctorate in Theology with a specialization in the development of the Lectionary System of the Armenian Church. Upon completion of his doctoral work, George was ordained into the Diaconate by Archbishop Datev Sarkissian. He is currently enrolled in a post-doctoral study, again in theology, and hopes to complete this second doctorate within the next several years. Over the past 30 years, Archdeacon George has served Saint Gregory the Illuminator parish in San Francisco, and has been actively involved with Christian Education programs throughout the Eastern and Western Prelacies of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. He teaches Theology and Liturgics at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and has served at several mission parishes over the past decade. He has developed a particular interest in the interaction between village parishes and local monasteries in historic Armenia, and likewise, an interest in the evolution of Armenian parish life in the diaspora. He is committed to the daily, liturgical life of the Armenian Church, and remains dedicated to continuous education and spiritual renewal within the community.


  1. It’s very interesting to see this small village getting the attention of Mr Mouradian and Mr Leyleghian. I would like to add 2 important notes that Mr Mouradian missed during his trip to that village as one of my grandmothers is originally from there and I visited it in 2008:
    – there are some small cross stones in the walls of the Church. Even after converting it to a mosque, the locals decided to keep them. Those were shown to me when I asked the locals if anything old is left.
    – the other important note is the small spring in the village which is believed to have holy water even for the local muslims. The spring was a sanctuary visited by many Armenians every august. after 1915, the new villagers kept on the tradition and they believe in the power of the water and make wishes.


  2. I think  “Syrian Orthodox Christians” should be “Syriac Orthodox Christians”, not to confuse tha nationality of Syrian (from Syria).

  3. Wonderful article and more interesting information about our illustrious Armenian history.
    The last paragraph should be taken to heart; no child should be abused. Armenians are known to be very loving parents. Let’s keep it that way. In a recent conversation an enlightened man said we Armenians have a self destructive gene, that we cannot get along with one another. If that gene could be isolated and removed we would be capable of cooperating with each other and could accomplish splendid things.

  4. if I may add, i do not believe it is a “gene” responsible of our self destructive attitude. It is the consequence of a lot of unresolved trauma.

  5. As a product of parents of the genocide I felt the trauma of abuse. My mother with her sharp tongue and belitting manner, my father with his yelling. It took me years to gain back m self esteem.

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