Syriac family returns to Turkey after 34 years, restores ancient mansion

assyrian-debasso-turns-back-to-turkey-after-34-years-in-exile-2010-09-23_l2.jpgHürriyetÄ°skender Debasso is a member of Turkey’s Syriac community that fled its native land in 1974. He fled the hostilities of the local villages and settled in Sweden. Many more followed suit especially in the 1980s due to the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan People’s Party that ravaged the region. Debasso is now back in his home village and lives in the ancient mansion he restored
Made of Midyat’s pink stone, Debasso mansion is big enough to house several families. Ä°skender and Sara Debasso see the mansion as a sacred escrow.
The pink walls surrounding the 480-year-old Debasso Mansion, situated on a hill overlooking the Narlı village in Midyat district in the eastern province Mardin, are not easy to reach, but behind the huge iron gates is an impressive example of Syriac architecture that makes the hike worth it.
 “This has actually been a settlement area for 2,000 years,” said İskender Debasso, adding that his grandfathers used to live in the caves they now use as a depot. The mansion has been in the family of İskender and Sara Debasso, the owners of the imposing building, for nearly five centuries. He said the caves also features an animal shelter, a well and a winery, and that they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The mansion is big enough to host 70 adults and 50 children at the same time. There are 30 rooms, six bathrooms, three kitchens, laundry rooms and terraces, which can double as sleeping spaces during summer months.
 Debasso was born in 1949 in Narlı. He has two sisters and four brothers. His family used to live off agriculture and stockbreeding. At that time the village had 250 families and Debasso’s was the only Syriac family.
 He was educated in the Deyrulzafaran Monastery. Metropolit Yuhann Dolabani taught him English. When he reached 15, he was sent to Istanbul’s Robert College. After graduation he returned, married Sara and started working at NATO’s Diyarbakır base as a translator.
 The year 1974 became a turning point for Debasso. A few days after the Turkish intervention in Cyprus on July 20, the Debassos were stoned by their neighbors. One night, his son Orhan came home frightened. Their neighbor across the road had told him, “While foreigners are killing us, you live within us. We will scratch your eyes out.” That night they escaped and took refuge in the home of a priest. İskender Debasso then went abroad. He decided to settle in Sweden. He found a job in Uppsala thanks to his English. Four months later, his wife and children joined him. In order to learn Swedish properly, he enrolled in high school. After graduation, he started his education that lasted 15 years. He studied European and Middle Eastern economic history for a year and a half, sociology for two years and career psychology, in addition to child and adult psychology. Because he did not work, he subsisted on state assistance. “He studied for 15 years. No money, but books entered the house,” said his wife. He then started to teach Middle Eastern history courses in university.
“We were seven families when we left. In 36 years we spread out and became 36 families. I have 11 grand children from my five sons,” he said.
 Three years ago Debasso decided to return to Turkey. “I started to restore the house and build an additional building,” he said. It cost $750,000 to complete the building, most of which was paid for by his son Orhan. “The villagers are cultivating our lands. They are spending the revenue of the land for the joint costs of the village like electricity or water. We don’t ask for rent. This condition was put by my father, who died four years ago,” he said.
 “We came back because of the honesty and the humanity of our villagers,” he said, adding that everyone in the village was happy that they returned. “I don’t only love my village, but my country as well,” he said.
 “I don’t see this house as an inheritance from my grandfathers, but rather I think of myself as a guardian of it for them. Had I thought like a Christian, I would have gone to Jerusalem to build a house or I could have built it in Sweden. But I did it here because the pledge to my grandfathers is sacred.