Mor Gabriel

The latest European Parliament report on Turkey begins with the following noteworthy statement: The EP “commends Turkish citizens and civil society for supporting Turkey’s further democratization and for their commitment to an open and pluralistic society…”

That knocking exhibit for the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Foundation at the Tütün Deposu in Istanbul’s Tophane district is the evidence of this praise. You should definitely go and see the artworks of tens of artists, mostly young, by April 22.

The government, however, is mentioned in the next paragraph: The EP “notes Turkey’s slow progress with regard to reforms and recalls that the Turkish government has committed itself to undertaking comprehensive reforms both with a view to fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria and for the sake of Turkey’s own modernization; calls on the government to increase its efforts in that respect…”

The 25th paragraph of the report reads that the EP “finds the Turkish Supreme Court [of Appeals] decision against Mor Gabriel Monastery, concerning a land dispute with villages and the Turkish Treasury, to be regrettable.”

As I read sections reminding us of the Mor Gabriel issue and countless violations of rights, the meaning of EP’s call for public authorities and of the reference made to the civil society is revealed before all eyes. Compared to European countries, the violation of rights in Turkey usually occurs as a result of flawed, incomplete or biased practices of public authorities in accordance with an understanding always privileging the state against citizens. The story of Mor Gabriel is a genuine example of this mentality.

Another aggrieved nation Syriacs

In the 1970s I visited Tur Abdin, near the town of Midyat, where holy Syriac sites are located, a few times. Tur Abidin means in the Syriac language the “mountain of helots.” It is at the heart of Syriac religion and culture and one of the world’s ancient centers for Christianity. Mor Gabriel Monastery is the region’s oldest running monastery and the residence of Tur Abdin’s metropolitan. The holy premise was established in 397 as Deyrulumur (Shelter of Priests), and from the 7th century on, it has been called the Monastery of Saint Mor Gabriel. The places I am talking about are too old for Turkey’s memory capacity.

Another significant Syriac site is Deyrulzafaran. Established in 493, Deyrulzafaran was the throne of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate from 1160 to 1932. Afterward, the patriarchate moved to Damascus. And Syriacs are another ancient people of Anatolia who have experienced the religion-based nationalization process, just like other non-Muslim communities, and were run through with sabers. In fact they name the massacre they were subjected to “Seyfo,” meaning sword! In the aftermath of the disaster they faced, it became more difficult for the Syriacs to remain in the homeland. The Syrian-Turkish border, as the other result of nation building, reduced Syriacs in number once again. Since the patriarchate moved to Syria, Syriacs have taken refuge on the other side of the border. Speaking of which, there is an obvious difference between the “model country” and the country to be inspired by the model. Turkey claims to be a model country for the Arab countries, but cannot compete with these states when it comes to freedom of faith and protection of diversities!

Syriacs were caught in the crossfire during the Kurdish revolts. Their outflow continued to date to the west of Turkey and to Australia, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States. Today, the Syriac population in Turkey is estimated to be 3,000-5,000. In short, Syriacs are struggling to survive in their homeland.

That the infamy as pointed out in the EP report and by many columnists for years in Turkey occurs in such an environment. A few years back, three village heads filed a criminal complaint at the Prosecutor’s Office that Mor Gabriel violates their borders and occupies 100 hectares of forest. These are the villages of Qertmîn (Yayvantepe), Zînol (Eğlence) and Dawrîk (Çandarlı).

The lawsuit is like an absurd story: The monastery has paid taxes since the 1930s, the land survey has registered their lot, the local court overruled the case, but the Court of Appeals treated Syriacs like foreigners and squashed the ruling of the local court against the monastery by the help of a smart jurisprudence constituted in the 1970s: The decision disallowing foreign foundations from buying property!

Once the case is lost and all domestic remedies are exhausted, the file clearly stands a chance at the European Court of Human Rights. Yet what else could be the reason for this collective stubbornness, if not greed for money mixed with anti-non-Muslim feelings?