ANKARA/MARDIN – HÃ¼rriyet Daily News
Mardin and DiyarbakÄ±r Archbishop Saliba Ã–zmen has met with FM Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu in Mardin over the weekend. ‘The foreign minister has approached our needs positively. I am optimistic that we’ll resolve our problems together,’ Ã–zmen tells the Daily News
Syriac Archbishop Saliba Ã–zmen (r) says Foreign Minister DavutoÄŸlu pledged to support the Syriac community in Turkey.
Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu pledged to support Syriac efforts to cultivate religious leaders to help sustain their culture, religion and language during a meeting over the weekend with community leaders in Mardin.
The Mardin and DiyarbakÄ±r archbishop, contacted by the HÃ¼rriyet Daily News & Economic Review after his meeting with the foreign minister, said education remains the biggest problem facing the Syriac community in Turkey.
â€œWe spoke with the minister. There is an overwhelming need to raise religious leaders with comprehensive knowledge of the language, culture and religion for the Syriac community and the Syriac churches,â€ Archbishop Saliba Ã–zmen told the Daily News in a telephone interview Monday.
â€œThe foreign minister has approached our needs positively. I am optimistic that weâ€™ll resolve our problems together,â€ he said.
Mardin, known for its strategic location on a rocky mountain overlooking the plains of Syria, contains a mixed population of Turks, Kurds, Syriacs and Arabs, as well as a small Armenian community. While in the border city with a group of ambassadors, DavutoÄŸlu described Mardin as â€œkadim,â€ which means the one with an eternal tradition.
One of DavutoÄŸluâ€™s primary stops in Mardin was the 1,500-year-old Syriac DeyrÃ¼lzafaran Monastery. The foreign minister toured the ancient building with the archbishop, who recounted the monasteryâ€™s history and informed DavutoÄŸlu about the problems of the community, whose members have decreased over the years for several reasons.
â€œThe first thing that comes to mind when Mardin is mentioned are the Syriacs. We have a 5,500-year-old history in this land, but we are on the verge of becoming extinct,â€ said Ã–zmen. â€œMost of the churches, monasteries and villages had been evacuated or destroyed. In the past, there were many churches in the region extending from DiyarbakÄ±r to Silopi and Cizre in southeastern Anatolia, but now there are only six or seven active churches.â€
The population of the Syriac community has declined from 200,000 to 3,000. Those remaining are densely concentrated in Mardin and the surrounding areas, including Midyat. According to Ã–zmen, many have had to immigrate for economic, social and political reasons.
â€œNobody was forced to leave their homeland without a compelling reason. There was a big flow to Syria throughout the late 1930s,â€ the archbishop said. â€œAfter the 1960s, Syriac immigration to Sweden and Germany, and even to the U.S. and Australia, began. In the late 1980s, there were security-related problems that left the Syriac community in a dilemma. Most of them had to leave their land.â€
The Syriac church had a patriarchate in Turkey until the 1930s, when it had to move to Syria. The archbishops of all Syriac churches now meet in Damascus. The problem in the 1980s was related to terrorism and Turkeyâ€™s boosting of security measures in the southeast in its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workersâ€™ Party, or PKK.
â€œBut there have been good steps taken in recent times. We can practice our religion,â€ said Ã–zmen. â€œWhat matters is keeping this deep-rooted heritage and culture alive. The problems can be easily overcome if we, as the citizens of Turkey, approach them with mutual goodwill. To my view, regardless of his religion, language and culture, everyone should enjoy broader liberties. This diversity is Turkeyâ€™s richness, which will take us to the true path.â€
The Mor Gabriel Monastery, Mor Yakup Monastery, Virgin Mary Monastery and Mor Abraham Monastery are among the religious places in Mardin and its surrounding area. Mor means â€œsaintâ€ in the Syriac language.
Syriacs worshipped the sun before converting to Christianity