Syriac candidate hopes to represent all of Southeast Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Though poised to become the first ever Syriac elected to Turkey’s Parliament, independent Mardin candidate Erol Dora has stressed that his job will be to represent the southeast rather than simply his religious community.

“If I manage to enter Parliament, I will become the voice of the Syriac community, as well as all of the other ethnicities living in the southeastern region,” Dora told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

An independent candidate for the Labor, Democracy and Freedom bloc, which is supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, could enter Parliament as the platform’s third candidate from the southeastern province of Mardin to win in the June 12 elections.

Although Dora said he offered his name for individual reasons, he acknowledged that the Turkey’s Syriac community had been lending him support in his campaign. “The support that I have seen makes me happy.”

The candidate said the situation in Turkey was changing, allowing for people from previously unrepresented groups to join the race to enter the legislature.

“Whatever his ethnic identity, if a Turkish citizen displaying the moral courage wants to have a voice in his country, there is nothing wrong in that,” said Dora. “In previous years, the minority communities living in Turkey were looked upon as foreigners, nevertheless, with the European Union accession process, this situation is changing.”

Turkey is moving from a system of “compulsory citizenship,” in which only the country’s Turkishness is privileged, to a conception of citizenship that is more inclusive of diverse, non-Turkish groups. “All of the ethnic cultures of Turkey are” excited about this, Dora said.

Dora said he hoped that other ethnic groups, and not just non-Muslim groups like Syriacs, Armenians and Jews, would also run in politics.

“It is not important whether to be chosen or not. The pluralist participation will be the sign that everybody in Turkey has equal rights,” the candidate said. “Our entrance into politics from the bottom rung by showing effort … will certainly contribute to the improvement of Turkey.”

Explaining his preference for the Labor, Democracy and Freedom list, Dora said, “It was something that happened spontaneously; the offer was made and I accepted.”

The BDP had previously offered Rakel Dink, the widow of assassinated Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, a chance to run as a candidate for the bloc, but she declined the offer.

Syriacs returning home

Syriacs, a Christian people, have been living in Mardin and other areas in Mesopotamia for millennia. Many Turkish citizens of Syriac origin, however, were forced to emigrate to the EU, the United States or the Middle East throughout the 20th century – most recently due to the instability during the 1990s due to the conflict in Southeast Anatolia, according to Dora.

In recent years, however, there has been a reversal of this emigration trend, Dora said.

“Thanks to the positive developments occurred lately, Syriacs have been returning. People who were forced out are now returning willingly,” he said.

“We’ve been living in Mesopotamia for hundreds of years. Our properties that are thousands of years old are in dispute. The problems concerning the 1,700 year-old Deyrulumur Monastery, known also as Mor Gabriel, are still continuing,” he said in reference to a lawsuit filed against the monastery by the neighboring villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence in 2008 in which locals claimed that the church was occupying their land.

If the ongoing case is decided against Mor Gabriel, the monastery could lose a significant amount of land.

Minority candidates

Dora is the not the only Syriac running for Parliament in the upcoming elections; Ferit Özcan, one of the founders of the People’s Voice Party, or HSP, is also a candidate.

At the same time, two members of the country’s Jewish community are also running for other parties.

Seven people from the Turkish Armenian community also attempted to run for the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Labor, Democracy and Freedom bloc for the elections but failed to appear on the parties’ final lists