FEATURE-Iraq’s Mosul struggles to shake off al Qaeda 15 Jul

Çınar Kiper
MARDIN – Turkish Daily News

Mardin, once the home of Turkey’s Suryanis, or Aramaic-Syriac people, has lost most of its population at a time when it is in need of its sons and daughters, according to the Syrian Orthodox leader of the southeastern city’s dying community.

“The Syriac community who lived in Turabdin, the area between Mardin and Midyat, has lost 95 percent of its population to migration. In the ’20s they moved to Syria and Iran, to Istanbul, and as far away as Canada, and in the ’70s and ’80s they spread to different parts of Europe,” said Archbishop Saliba Özmen of Mardin and Diyarbakir. Now only five percent of the community lives in Turabdin, an ancient word meaning “the mountain of the servant of God,” with most of the Turkish Syriac population now living in Istanbul.

The Syrian Orthodox community currently has very few remaining families in Mardin and Diyarbakir. “We have about 130 families in Mardin and about 20 families in Diyarbakir, but we are very well known,” said Özmen. Though a well-known minority in Turkey despite its small numbers, the Syriac community tends not to be prominent on the national stage. “In Turkey, people who aren’t Muslim are minorities — that is not up for debate. If you are a Christian, you are a minority. But in all honesty, being called a minority does bother us. To see yourself as a minority despite being one of the first peoples of Turkey does make one uncomfortable,” said Özmen.

Mardin’s Syriac community has not always been so weak. The city was the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate for seven centuries until 1932 when the patriarchate moved to Damascus. Now the archbishopric is in Mardin at the Deyrülzafarân Monastery of St. Ananias.

Mardin needs its businessmen

But it is not just the Syriacs who have been leaving at a time when Mardin’s development rests in the hands of its people. Özmen bemoaned “90 percent of Mardin’s wealthy having left for Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara,” saying, “This is very bad for Mardin’s development, for our business interests.”

“Mardin’s businessmen must establish businesses in Mardin, otherwise Mardin won’t develop. Mardin is the most popular tourist destination in the southeast Anatolia region. They need to take advantage of this opportunity but we need money for that,” he added.

Özmen said he would like to see all of Mardin’s businessmen come and contribute to the historic city. “This is very important for us. In the end, Mardin is far more beautiful than Jerusalem, far more beautiful than Damascus.”