Turkish court takes Assyrian monastery land, calling the nation occupiers

The final decision of the [Turkish] Supreme Court of Cassation in the legal case of St. Gabriel, ordering it to transfer the lands which the monastery has owned for 14 centuries to the State Treasury has reported marked a major legal scandal.

In 1974, the institution had ruled against the [non-Muslim] minority foundations in Turkey and has played an important role in intensifying minority problems, according to the Assyrian International News Agency.

The confiscation of properties, trusts and estates of non-Muslim minorities by the government or by third parties is one of the darkest pages in the history of the [Turkish] Republic. Even though the Law of Foundations has been subject to various revisions within the framework of EU reforms over the last ten years, due to the nationalistic understanding that aims to preserve the existing status quo, the problems of minority foundations have not received a profound and lasting solution. This is reportedly very much related to the hegemonic perception that has been formed historically towards minorities in Turkey. The deep traces of such institutionalized discourses can be read in the reflexes of the judicial and political authorities in the context of the legal trials of Hrant Dink, St. Gabriel and Publishing House.

While many in Turkey did not know much about Assyrians [known as Süryani in Turkey], they got to learn about them thanks to the St. Gabriel trial. Despite being a non-Muslim minority according to the definition of the Lousanne Treaty, the Assyrians have not received any legal status throughout the history of the Republic. Policies of denial and assimilation have resulted in the loss of cultural identity, excluding them from political participation for decades while institutionalizing their third class status. With the beginning of the EU accession process in Turkey, they started to be remembered and rediscovered afresh as an exotic culture. Within the framework of the rediscovery phenomenon, Assyrians have been converted to a ‘touristic object’ on one hand, while on the other hand the state presented them as an example of its generous “tolerance.”

The recent developments in the case of St. Gabriel remind the Assyrians directly of the case of Hrant Dink, who was killed in 2007. Interestingly, in both cases the Turkish government took shelter under the pretext of “We cannot intervene in the judiciary” and “the judiciary makes its own independent decisions,” hence sidelining the issues based on blatant unwillingness to solve the problem.

As pointed out by Professor Baskin Oran, who closely follows the case of St Gabriel, the party representing the state treasury against the monastery is under the control of the government and is composed of appointed bureaucrats. If the Turkish government wanted to demonstrate a good faith approach, the problems that St. Gabriel monastery has been facing could easily be resolved. But the stance pursued by the Turkish executive powers with regards to this case reveals the existence of deep politics. While the Assyrians on the one hand are being punished with this case, on the other hand homage to a post-modern Turkish supremacy culture is dictated to them.

The punishment part of the job is related to the increasingly institutionalized genocide (Seyfo in Assyrian) recognition activities Assyrians in the Diaspora in recent years. This obviously creates discontent among Turkish ruling elites, a relationship many Assyrian activists have been pointing to. Through this case, the message is conveyed to the Assyrians is “Look, we are becoming a democracy, writing a new constitution. But you as a minority, however, you have to know your boundaries. Stop dealing with issues such as the genocide!”

Armenian News – Tert.am