Mor Gabriel Land Dispute: Talk by Dr Andrew Palmer

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On Wednesday 22nd June 2012 there was a meeting about the land disputes surrounding the monastery of Mor Gabriel in the district of Midyat, Mardin Province, Turkey, organized by the National Aramaean Federation of Belgium at the invitation of a member of the Belgian Senate. Those present included the President and three members of the Federation, the Syrian Orthodox priest, Sabri Aydin and representatives of three different political parties. The invited speaker, Dr Andrew Palmer, briefly introduced the subject, stressing the great age and symbolic significance of the monastery in question, then explained in some detail how the occasion of modernising the land-register had been abused to adjust the boundaries in favour of neighbouring Muslim villages and how an anomalous law seems to allow the Turkish state to appropriate land outside the perimeter wall of the monastery and even some land within that wall. Dr Palmer articulated the suspicion that more was at stake than a few hectares of infertile ground. Perhaps the intention was to build a mosque with a minaret towering over the monastery and making it look like a Muslim holy place, instead of a Christian one. The absurd claim made of late in the Turkish press, that the monastery was built on the site of a Muslim place of prayer (at best a misunderstanding of the tradition that it was built near the site of a pagan sanctuary) may have been intended to prepare the ground for such a building-initiative. Dr Palmer, who has studied the history of this monastery since 1977 and knows all the sources, assured the Belgian Parliament that there had never been a mosque anywhere near the site on which the monastery was built and that the traditional date of foundation, 397 after Christ, probably represented its official foundation by the Roman emperor Theodosius, the monastery being older still, perhaps a quarter of a millennium older than Islam. Dr Palmer referred to a recent report by the Reverend Stephen Griffith, an expert on contemporary Christian communities in the Near and Middle East, which ends with recommendations to the Turkish Government to implement the excellent Turkish Constitution, to reform the corrupt politics of the region, where tribal chieftains wield power by the use of blackmail and other criminal means (for the Agha of Mzizah seems to be behind the problems the monastery is experiencing) and to ensure that the inclusion of ethnic minorities, to which lip-service is paid, becomes a fact.