Syriac Christian Leader Opposes Moving Church Patriarchate Back to Turkish Occupied Territory

stpeterschurchantioch1.jpgThe oldest church in the world: Saint Peter’s Church in Antioch, Alexandretta remains under Turkish occupation since 1938

DAMASCUS, Syria (MECN) – After WWI, the French and British betrayed the peoples’ of the Middle East who they promised with independence and self-determination, which was manifested in the Franco-British conspiracy to divide the region into zones of influence under their direct military occupation known as the Sykes-Picot Accord. The French further betrayed its allies in WWI by making covert deals with the Turkish forces who were fighting to carve out of the Ottoman empire a Turkish state on any lands they could hold onto by military force. The French concluded a series of treaties that not only surrendered vast amounts of territories they had secured from the local people through their pledges of independence and self-determination, but also that they had bargained with the British to control and which cost British lives on the battlefield.

These series of compromises and betrayals had a devastating effect on the local people, especially the Syrian and Syriac Christians who had barely survived a genocide perpetrated by Ottoman, Turkish and Kurdish forces. One of the later agreements violated the League of Nations mandate France held over Syria, what was considered then a class-A mandate, by ceding sovereign Syrian territory. In 1938, France created an autonomous province of Syria that it later handed over to Turkish troops and in 1939 an illegal referendum was held under Turkish occupation that voted to incorporate that territory into Turkey. This province was special, however, for it was the home of the ancient city of Antioch, the place where the disciples of Christ were first called Christians as known from the Bible. Immediately, large numbers of Christians evacuated, fearing a continuation of the genocide against them that the Turks undertook during and after Ottoman rule. Among those that fled were the ancient Patroarchates of the Antiochian churches, who relocated to Damascus and Beirut.

Recently, the leader of the Syriac Union Party in Syria stated his opposition to the relocation of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus and the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate in Beirut, respectively, back to Turkish controlled territory.

“We have a large population in Syria, and the patriarchate is the highest institution that holds them together. The relocation of the Syriac Christian patriarchates would be tantamount to our people losing their presence [in Syria and Lebanon],” head of the Syrian Syriac Union Party stated. “If Turkey truly wants to do something, then the restoration of Syriacs’ rights in Turkey would suffice for us.”

Turkish officials have been holding talks trying to convince the Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Patriarchates to relocate back to their ancient home in Antioch, still under an illegal Turkish occupation. It is not clear what intentions Turkey has in going out of its way to please its Christian minority after a century of persecution except two things: the first is that the 100 year anniversary of the genocide is fast approaching in 2015 and Turkey is fearful that they will be forced to make real concessions pertaining to territories and properties stolen from Christians, and the second is that Turkey’s international standing could remain in jeopardy as more and more legislation is passed by world governments recognizing the genocide, something that could jeopardize Turkish trade relations, national pride, and have wider ramifications than it may sound.

Perhaps the Syriac Christian community, as represented by the words of the leader of the Syrian Syriac Union Party, is wise in calling on Turkey to give them equal rights and justice rather than symbolic gestures that offer them very little and that may only serve to uproot Christians further.