Syriacs to report to EU on problems in Turkey

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n_9875_41.jpgISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Syriac Christian communities are to report to EU regarding a number of problems they face in Turkey, a community leader says, such as unresolved murders of Syriacs in the 90’s, property rights and social pressure.
Syriac residents most commonly referred to “social pressure” as a great concern in the study, as well as issues of land registry , security and infrastructure.
Syriac residents most commonly referred to “social pressure” as a great concern in the study, as well as issues of land registry , security and infrastructure. Hürriyet photo

Vercihan ZiflioÄŸlu vercihan.ziflioglu@hurriyet.com.tr

A report detailing the problems Turkey’s long forgotten Syriac Christian communities face, prepared with the backing of the European Syriac Union (ESU) and the Dutch Foreign Ministry, will be presented to European Parliament in the coming days.

“Previously issued statements were based on estimated information, but now we have concrete conclusions,” Tuma Çelik, the head of ESU’s Turkey branch, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The report prepared by the Southeastern Syriac Culture in Solidarity Association is based on research conducted in the southeastern provinces of Mardin, Şırnak and Batman, where there once was a heavily concentrated Syriac Christian population.

The occasion marks the first time such a study was conducted in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions, Çelik said on behalf of the association.

Entitled “Syriacs in a Multi-Cultural Environment and the Right of Property,” the report covers a number of issues, including the unresolved murders of Syriacs in connection with the 1980s and 1990s fighting between government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast.
Caught in the crossfire, many Syriacs fled en masse to Europe because of the unresolved murders, Çelik explained. “This matter unfortunately is unknown to the Turkish public. We are going to make an effort to get those responsible to account [for their actions].”

The Syriac population in Mardin’s Midyat district, a traditional Syriac homeland, fell from 1800 residents before the year 1985 down to a mere 130 residents in 2011, while the same figure in the district of Yemiþli dropped from 270 down to 18, according to the report.

Syriac populations in other districts mentioned in the document also experienced a similar decline, despite very slight increases over the past decade.

The report also covers other issues, such as the occupation of lands owned by Syriacs, the problems Syriacs who fled and those returning to Turkey have faced and other rights violations.

“Syriacs do not have enough power to influence public opinion. First, we are going to encourage Syriacs in Turkey to explain their problems. We are going to get problems in the southeast to be discussed in Istanbul,” Çelik said. He and researchers had met with Syriacs in the area and local governments, he said.

Turkey’s Syriac population dropped to as low as 5,000 people due to repression, he said. “Following the [the Syriacs’] exodus, a large portion of [their] lands were registered as ‘treasury property’ or ‘forest lands’ by the state on the pretext they were not being utilized. Villagers [then] occupied the lands of those who left,” Çelik said. “Syriacs had to leave their properties behind while fleeing from the region during the events that took place between 1985 and 1995.”

He said returning Syriacs were still confronted with problems.

Syriac residents in Mardin’s Midyat district most commonly referred to “social pressure” as a great concern in the study, while they also pointed to infrastructure as a significant problem. Elsewhere, however, issues of land registry topped the list of problems, while security, social pressure and infrastructure were also cited as issues of significant concern.

“A returning Syriac named İsrail Demir was harassed and wounded with a weapon. There is in the region a wall of fear emanating from the past, and that is still influential.”

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