Syriac Monastery in Turkey Gets New Road

[A Syriac Christian monk walks up the steps at the ancient monastery of Mor Gabriel, 15 km (9 miles) away from the town of Midyat, in Mardin province in southeast Turkey, Jan. 13, 2009. (photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas)]

By: Nese Karanfil Translated from Radikal (Turkey).

Turkish authorities are planning to improve road access to the Mor Gabriel Monastery in Midyat, Mardin province, known as “the Jerusalem of Syriacs,” while the government is looking for a way to return monastery land to the Syriacs. Midyat sub-Gov. Oguzhan Bingol announced the allocation of a special fund of 1 million Turkish lira [$543,000] for the reconstruction and landscaping of the road that leads to the 1,612-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery; the road has long been criticized for being too narrow and rundown.
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Bingol’s drive to improve road access to the monastery is backed by Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and Interior Minister Muammer Guler. Bingol said the million-lira fund — to be used for the reconstruction, enlargement and forestation of the road — was allocated by the Finance Ministry.

“No longer ashamed”

Bingol said he felt ashamed by the desolate state of the road each time he went to the monastery. “Since I took office, I have been applying positive discrimination — both personally and as a sub-governor — to make sure that Syriac citizens do not feel abandoned. The Mor Gabriel Monastery is one of the most precious heritage sites in our region, a rare structure that has stood witness to our history, culture and coexistence. I used to feel ashamed to go to the monastery because of the state of the road. The Syriac community, too, was making requests for reconstruction. The last time I visited the monastery, I told Metropolitan Samuel Aktas that I would not come back until I had good news about the road. The road was really bad, and when visitors saw it in that state, they thought that we, the administration, were responsible. We will no longer hear that criticism,” Bingol said.

Ready in three months

Bingol said construction work would kick off as soon as possible. “Once the work is completed, the monastery road will look better than an intercity highway. We will widen it by eight meters. Landscaping is also part of the project. Construction will be completed in three or four months.”

Government making efforts on usage of land

In comments about the ownership controversy over monastery lands, Simsek said the government was expending efforts to resolve the problem and enable the monastery to use those lands. “The monastery cannot have the proprietorship rights because of the [earlier] court ruling. But we are trying to find a way to give Mor Gabriel the right to use the land. The Syriac community says it has owned the monastery land since 397 and that all taxes have been paid regularly since 1937. But neighboring villages laid claim on the lands and filed a lawsuit. The Appeals Court overthrew the ruling of the lower court, which had said the lands belonged to the monastery, thus putting the monastery in the position of an “occupier.” The lands were then registered as a property of the state treasury. The government has begun to study the problem to see what could be done,” Simsek said.

Two formulas for return

Radikal has previously reported the search for a way to return the lands to the Mor Gabriel Monastery in a story headlined “Legal Remedy for Mor Gabriel.” The report said the government was studying two formulas to enable the return, and that a working group had been set up at the prime minister’s office on the issue. “In the face of the court ruling, the commission drew up two formulae to ensure the quick restoration of the lands: leasing or auctioning off the lands at a negligible price,” the report said.
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