Turkey-Syria deal allows Syriacs to cross border for religious holidays

syria1.jpgAn agreement has been made between Turkey and Syria, allowing the countries’ Syriac Christian community to visit relatives during religious feasts.
Syriacs are members of an ethno-religious group spread throughout Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq who speak a variant of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The signed agreement resembles one made between the two countries to allow Muslims with family on both sides of the border to visit one another during Eid al-Fitr (the holiday that follows the fasting month of Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice). Efforts by Mehmet Kılıçlar, the governor of southeastern Mardin province bordering Syria, have led to the agreement that allows Syriacs in Turkey to be able to visit their relatives in Syria during their religious holidays. This decision comes as Syriacs prepare to celebrate Orthodox Easter this weekend.
“Turkish society will continue to hold on to its ethno-cultural diversity and richness. The atmosphere of tolerance between different religions and cultures in Mardin has always symbolized peace and love. This tolerance is a good example for the world. I want to wish my Syriac citizens a joyful Easter. I wish goodness, health, wealth, peace and happiness to all portions of society” Kılıçlar added. An estimated 25,000 Syriacs live in Turkey, while Syria boasts some 877,000. During the two annual Islamic religious festivals, Turkish and Syrian citizens who live near the border and wish to visit their relatives cross over to the other country. In the past this was prevented by political problems between Turkey and Syria stemming from Syria’s support of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). However, after Syria expelled PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, following strong political and military pressure from Turkey, relations between the two countries normalized.

In 2000 the two countries signed an agreement and Turkish and Syrian citizens who live near the border were allowed to visit their relatives in the neighboring country for two days during religious festivals. Every year Syrian and Turkish citizens visit their relatives during Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. In 2007, 70,000 people from Turkey crossed the border for this purpose and 50,000 people crossed the Turkish-Syrian border to visit their relatives in Turkey.