While the history of Christianity focuses on the Greek Church and the Latin Church, a third major source of the faith is often ignored or unknown: Syriac (or Semitic) Christianity. Its traditional center lies in southeast Turkey in a region called Turabdin, which may mean "mountain of the servants". It is not truly a mountain but a limestone plateau overlooking modern Syria, on which were founded at least 80 monasteries of the Oriental Orthodox Christian tradition.

Its people descended from the Aramaeans, who were the dominant group of biblical times. The language of its inhabitants even today reflects ancient Aramaic roots, a dialect of Syriac called Turoyo.

Centuries later the Eastern Roman Empire established its epicenter near Turabdin, in ancient Edessa and its frontier city Nisibis. The region then became the bloody border between the Persians and the Romans and, later, the Byzantines. Edessa—to the west of Turabdin—did not fall to the Persians until 609 c.e.

Nisibis—much closer to Turabdin—was largely cut off from the Greco-Roman world when the Persians took the area in 363 c.e. and kept the region isolated from the West for centuries afterward. Successive groups of Muslims kept up the same policy under the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Seljuk Empires. Thus, because of Turabdin’s origins and its colonial status, it is one of the most authentic descendants of the biblical world.

Legends speak of Thomas the Apostle, Addai, Mari, and others who first took the Christian message to Mesopotamia. The first bishop came as early as 120 c.e., but full conversion of the region did not happen until the fourth century.

Residents of Turabdin set such a high standard for themselves that nearly every town and village had its own monastery and its own mystics and miracle workers. The oldest continual monastery in the world, Mor Gabriel, owes its foundation to that burst of Turabdin enthusiasm between 350 and 400 c.e.

Turabdin boasts an honor roll of teachers, poets, and missionaries. In the foothills nearby Jacob and his pupil Ephrem taught one of the most important schools of theology.

Awgin, the founder of Mesopotamian monasticism, and Abraham of Kashkar, the reformer of Syriac monasticism, also claim the heritage of Turabdin. Many of its monks possessed healing gifts and supernatural abilities of self-denial.

One of the great benefactions of Turabdin is its collection of Syriac manuscripts, many of which have not yet been published. From its earliest days Turabdin has preserved manuscripts so that Syriac Christianity will not stray from its Aramaic cultural and linguistic moorings. It is through these ancient books that scholars have been able to discern the roots and development of Christian liturgy in the other Greek and Latin churches.