Turkish government confiscates 50 Syriac churches and monasteries

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Jardine Malado
(Wikimedia Commons/Nevit Dilmen)Mor Gabriel Monastery in the town of Midyat in Mardin province, Turkey.
The administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken control of at least 50 Syriac churches, monasteries and cemeteries in Mardin province and declared them as state property.

The church seizures were part of an ongoing effort by the province of Mardin to expropriate and redistribute the property of churches and other institutions whose legal charters had expired.

Among the confiscated properties was the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery, which is one of the world’s oldest religious centers, dating back to the fourth century A.D.

The seizures of these properties began in 2012 when the Governorate of Mardin established a liquidation committee after the province officially became a Metropolitan Municipality, The Turkish-Armenian daily Agos reported.

In 2016, the governorate transferred numerous churches, monasteries, cemeteries and other assets of the Syriac community to Turkey’s national treasury. The ownership of the assets was then transferred by the Treasury to the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

The move has been condemned by some human rights organizations and Syriac groups in Europe, calling the seizures outrageous and illegal.

The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation made an appeal to halt the transfers, but it was turned down by the liquidation committee in May.

An inquiry by the foundation revealed that dozens of churches and monasteries had been transferred to the state treasury before they were allocated to the Diyanet. The cemeteries were reportedly transferred to the Metropolitan Municipality of Mardin.

Despite the confiscation, the churches and monasteries are still being maintained by the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation. The members of the Syriac community are still able to visit the cemeteries and perform burial procedures.

The foundation said that it would file an appeal to the court for the cancellation of nearly 30 title deed registries.

“We will file an application to the directorate General of Foundations and will also file a court case. So far we have filed court cases for around 20 title deeds and we will do the same for around 30 more,” Kuryakos Ergün, the Chairman of Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, told Agos.

The petition filed to the court noted that the seized properties have been under the possession and ownership of the foundation since ancient times. It also highlighted the significance of the Mor Gabriel Monastery, which is one of the most ancient religious centers of Syriacs.

The ongoing confiscation of churches in Turkey has escalated since a national referendum awarded Erdogan almost exclusive power in the country.

In 2016, the Turkish president seized control of six churches, belonging to Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox congregations, in Diyarbakir.

“The government didn’t take over these pieces of property in order to protect them. They did so to acquire them,” Ahmet Guvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, said at the time.