Government plunders properties, churches and monastries of Syriac community in Turkey

Mor Gabriel Monastery in Mardin's Midyat district.

Turkish government has seized the properties of Syriac (Aramean) community in Turkey including churches, monasteries and cemeteries and given them to public institutions like Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), reported by Demokrat Haber on Thursday.

According to the report, Turkey’s Mardin Governorate has decided to hand over numbers of properties including monasteries, churches and cemeteries which have been belong to Turkey’s Syriac community in Mardin province and its districts to the treasury or public institutions.

It was reported that Mardin Governor Office has established a special Commission for Liquidation and Sharing for the properties owned by Turkey’s Syriac community. The Foundation of Mor Gabriel Monastery has objected the seizure and delivery decisions of Syriac properties. However, the objection was also rejected by the commission on May 2017.

Tens of churches, monasteries and cemeteries were reportedly given by the commission to the Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) as some cemeteries were given to Mardin Municipality. Syriac community has applied to the court to stop and annul the systematic and official plundering of their properties.

Kuryako Ergün, the Chariman of Mor Gabriel Monastery, said that they have started to sue the decision after determining the properties delivered by the commission to Turkey’s public institutions. Ergün also said that about 50 churches and monasteries have been given to Diyanet till today.

The controversy, especially over Mor Gabriel Monastry, over Syriac properties is not new. On January 26, 2011, the Turkish supreme court granted substantial parts of the Mor Gabriel Monastery to the Turkish Treasury. The ruling was that land inside and adjacent to the monastery, which the monastery has owned for decades and has paid taxes for, belongs to the State. On June 13, 2012 the Turkish supreme court of appeals upheld this decision, which Syriacs continued to protest.

The then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on September 2013 that the land would be returned to the Syriac community in Turkey. This decision was approved a week later by the Prime Ministry Directorate General of Foundations. A land registration process of two months would begin and was subject to approval.

The head of the Monastery of Mor Gabriel Foundation was handed the deeds of 12 parcels of the immovable property belonged to the Foundation of the Monastery of Mor Gabriel on February 25, 2014. This was based on the decision taken on October 7, 2013 by the Council of Foundations of the General Directorate of the Foundations. The legal process for taking the remaining 18 parcels of the monastery property continues.

Syriacs are an indigenous Semitic ethnic group and minority of Turkey (and also northern Iraq and northeast Syria) with a presence in the region dating to as far back as the 25th century BC, making them the oldest ethnic group in the nation. Some regions of what is now south eastern Turkey were an integral part of Assyria from the 25th century BC to the 7th century AD, including its final capital, Harran.

The Syriacs were once a large ethnic minority in the Ottoman Empire, but, following the Assyrian genocide, most were murdered or forced to emigrate to join fellow Assyrians in northern Iraq, northeast Syria, and northwest Iran. Now, they live in small numbers in eastern Turkey and İstanbul.

June 22, 2017

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