Welcome, Assyrian Sabro newspaper

As far as religious minorities are concerned, there is still a long way to go. So many problems are waiting to be solved, from legal personality questions to the opening of the Theological School of Halki.

As I have said in this column before, we have the most minority-friendly government that has ever been seen during the entire period of Turkish republic. In this sense, friendliness means not having a particular hostility toward minorities. Not having a particular hostility toward minorities means ending a 100-year policy, the foundations of which were laid by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) while the Ottoman Empire was nearing its end.

I have mentioned to you that the government has decided to support minority newspapers, which is a kind of revolution for us. Now the government is allocating some funds, albeit small, to help these newspapers survive. After all these years, after all those terrible things happened, we of course tend to regard every positive step as a kind of revolution.

We have just a few minority newspapers that are published by the Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities in Turkey. I have just learned that an Assyrian newspaper has just started to be published.

The newspaper’s name is Sabro, it is in Assyrian and I have learned that it means “hope.” Sabro is now being published once a month, but they are planning to publish it weekly later on. The newspaper is published in İstanbul but it is headquartered in Midyat, a town that is part of Mardin in the Southeast, which is one of the cultural and historical centers of Assyrians. It will be published in Turkish and Assyrian simultaneously.

Tuma Çelik, an Assyrian who left Turkey 25 years ago and came back home last year, is the editor-in-chief of this newspaper. Çelik has given interviews to some newspapers, and I would like to quote some of his remarks:

“Assyrians have immigrated to every part of the world; they have explored every coast, worked in every place. We must express Assyrians’ problems, their demands, the life that they want in Turkey. … Are there Assyrians or are there not? It is continuously said that we are one of the colors that make up Turkey, but no one knows who we truly are. A society, a religion? In the Lausanne Treaty, minority rights are clear, but Assyrians do not fit into this category; the government has blocked this. We have the right to establish foundations, and this is proof that the government recognizes us as a minority … How Turkey and the government sees us – this indecisive situation — needs to be done away with. Sabro means hope in Syriac. We named the paper this because we are hopeful for the future. The paper will be published in Ä°stanbul and will have its headquarters in Midyat. We will be the first paper with this perspective. Our aim is to be a voice for Assyrians. We will try to present Assyrians’ lives. We will acquaint Turkey with their problems, their expectations, their hopes and their culture. At the same time, they will try to understand the people and their lives. We are aiming for Turks to recognize us and understand us. Our initial circulation is 5,000. At this time, in addition to being based in Ä°stanbul, the paper is being distributed in Ankara, Ä°zmir, Antakya, Diyarbakır, Mardin and Balıkesir. Our goal is to expand into most provinces.”

The remarks of Erol Dora, who is of Assyrian descent and is the only deputy from a religious minority in the Turkish Parliament, are also interesting:

“Until now, there has never been a newspaper like this. The paper will serve an important function by introducing Turks to Assyrians and their culture. We are among the most ancient of peoples to have lived on this land. Everyone that lives on this land must support Turkey’s democratization and the EU accession process. I think that the newspaper will contribute a great deal to this end.”

I very much welcome the publication of Sabro. Its publication and other developments seem to me like a revitalization of a sea that had been long polluted and had no signs of life. Sabro’s publication is yet another sign that this sea has started to be cleaned, that some fresh water has started to run into it. And some old inhabitants have started to return home. Well, Sabro gives me a lot of HOPE.