Ancient monastery in Turkey faces destruction in anti-Christian lawsuit

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The world’s oldest functioning Christian monastery faces a clouded future, after an appeals court in Turkey ruled that the building sits on land not owned by the monks.

The Mor Gabriel monastery, built near the Syrian border, was established in 397 by Syriac Orthodox monks, and has been in continuous use since that time, welcoming up to 20,000 pilgrims each year.

But neighboring villagers brought suit against the monks, charging that they were engaged in “anti-Turkish activities” since they educate young men in the Aramaic language and in the Christian faith. The villagers also claimed ownership of the land on which the monastery was constructed. The court sided with the villagers on that claim.

Syriac Orthodox officials are likely to appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the monastery’s title to the property has been established by over 1,500 years of use.

An appeal might also highlight the lightly-veiled anti-Christian message of the villagers’ complaint. The lawsuit alleged that the Mor Gabriel monastery was built on a site previously used as a mosque, when in fact the monastery was built 170 years before the birth of Mohammed.

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