Erdogan steps into monastery dispute

60607601.jpg ANKARA – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan has intervened in a land dispute over an ancient Syriac monastery in the southeastern city of Mardin, instructing his ministers to resolve the problem through a peaceful settlement.

“Our prime minister is closely following the matter,” Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Mardin deputy Cüneyt Yüksel told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “We do not want the problem to cause an international crisis.”

The land dispute erupted when the boundaries around Mor Gabriel Monastery in Mardin’s Midyat district and its three surrounding villages were redrawn last year in an attempt to update the national land registry. The monastery is located on an area of 1,227 hectares, out of which the Land Registry General Directorate classified 284 hectares as forestry land and said 244 hectares belong to the Treasury. Villagers applied to the court, asking for the monastery wall to be pulled down and accusing the foundation operating the monastery of taking land they need for their cattle. The foundation petitioned the court to have the new boundaries re-examined, claiming that the monastery has been paying tax since 1938 for the land that has now been turned over to the villages. The next trial in the case will be held May 6. “The government and the state are not taking sides in the case,” Yüksel said, adding that the matter would be settled in a peaceful way.

“Our work to solve the problem continues. We are trying to persuade the villagers to withdraw their complaint,” he said.

“The monastery has a history of 1,600 years,” he said. “We will settle the conflict and resolve our Syriac citizens’ problem.” The Finance Ministry, Forestry Ministry and the Mardin Governorship have already taken action to try and settle the dispute.

Approximately 25,000 Syriacs live in Turkey. Although they are Christians, they are not viewed as an official minority group under the Treaty of Lausanne, the founding document of the Turkish Republic.

World’s eyes on the case
The land dispute has attracted international attention, with representatives from the Swiss Embassy in Ankara monitoring a trial in the case that took place at the beginning of April and delegations from the European Union visiting the region to investigate the matter.

Editor’s note: The preceding story was updated on April 27, 2009 to reflect the following correction which was published in the print version of the Daily News: An April 27 story incorrectly stated the date which Mor Gabriel Monastery in the city of Mardin was founded.