Mardin’s Bakok Mountain draws Syriac diaspora back home

mardin1.jpgToday, many former Mardin residents, most of whom are Syriac Christians, are returning to the town of their birth after decades spent as émigrés. Recently 14 Syriac families quit their new homes in Europe for good and moved into newly constructed houses in villages of Mardin province.
One such village is ElbeÄŸendi. When the unpredictable atmosphere that had prevailed in the region, preventing people from making long-term decisions, started to dissipate four years ago, a group of former fellow townsmen made a return to the Midyat district village — long abandoned because of frequent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks and in a state of utter dilapidation — and laid the foundation of 32 triplex luxury villas.

The construction of over half of these villas, in what has become a “dream village” on the skirts of Bakok Mountain, once teeming with PKK terrorists, is complete as are facilities including a swimming pool and sports center. The damaged church has been repaired and the new buildings are equipped with all manner of technological devices, including Internet access.

When the dream village project sees completion, it will have cost a total of 5 million euros. The price of a villa is nearly 250,000 euros, and so far 14 Syriac families have moved in. Since the launch of this project in 2004, many other people from nearby villages have been inspired to realize similar schemes to replace and renovate the typical old village houses with brand-new developments.

Ultimately an estimated 5,000 Syriacs currently living across Europe are expected to return to Turkey and settle down over the next two years. At present regular tours to ElbeÄŸendi are held for Syriacs, allowing them to see the villas for themselves and thus assist them in similar projects in their own villages scattered throughout Mardin. The province holds the largest Syriac population in the country.

Yakup Demir, president of the Elbeğendi Development and Rejuvenation Association, said that he was very happy to return to his hometown after living in Germany for 30 years. Noting that they will hopefully live the rest of their lives in Elbeğendi, Demir said: “In 2004, I began constructing a triplex villa on the foundation of my old house. It finished this year and I have moved in with all the members of my family. We are now leading a very happy life here. The villages have been designed to have many qualities such as that each villa has an indoor swimming pool. We are now planning to build a house for the infirm and create job opportunities for the young.”

Side Demir, a 75-year-old mother of six, is among those who have made a permanent return. She lived in Switzerland for years and said: “I lost my husband in Europe, so I have taken all my kids and returned to my village. Now I want to live the rest of my life here. This is my homeland and soil.”

Aziz Özdemir first came to Elbeğendi out of curiosity. “But I want to have a similar villa built in my village for my family. I have lived and worked in Germany for 40 years, and I think it’s now time to come back,” the 54-year-old pensioner said.

Yahko Demir, the architect of the project, lives in Switzerland and is a manager at a Mövenpick hotel. He said that Syriacs have been granted special permission to return to Turkey and that the villas have been constructed in line with this permission.

Inhabitants of Yemişli village, who left their village decades ago, are also returning after seeing the villas built in Elbeğendi. The Muslim mukhtar (village head), Şehmus Bilgiç, stated that former residents started to move back to the village three years ago and built luxury villas.

Governor Kılıçlar: All are equal, regardless of language and race

Mardin Governor Mehmet Kılıçlar stated that they were providing all the support they could for the Syriacs willing to come back and that they were doing their best to serve everybody regardless of language, race or faith.

He asserted that the villas built in Elbeğendi were of so high a quality that they could be an example for the entire world. “After this village, seven other [projects] were begun in the vicinity of Bakok, building similar houses. This shows the level of peace and security our region has achieved,” he said.

Yusuf Beğtaş, a representative from the Syriac Turabdin Church in Midyat, said the region was one of the most interesting places in the world, with a social, cultural and historic wealth. Beğtaş noted that plans are also under way for the rejuvenation of the cultural aspects of the region with the aim of becoming a major tourist attraction. However, he added, “Syriacs have one aim, and that is being reunited with the land in which they were born.”

24 May 2008, Saturday