Monastery boundary cases declared null and void in Ankara court battle: Back to the drawing board for the monastery

trk  Ankara

The Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), the recognised United Nations NGO representing the Aramean (Syriac) people worldwide, reports that the Supreme Court in Ankara handed down its long awaited decision regarding the St Gabriel Monastery (“Monastery”) land boundary battle with neighbouring villages of Yayvantepe (Qartmin) and Eğlence (Zinol) in southeast Turkey.

In a shocking verdict, the Ankara court has decided against the Monastery, resulting in its earlier victory on 22 May, 2009, becoming null and void.

The case dates back to an original decision by the Midyat Cadastre Directorate in May 2008 to redraft the Monastery boundary lines and grant the neighbouring villages 110 Hectares of land, all originally owned by the Monastery for over 1600 years. The Monastery disputed this decision at the Turkish Land Registration court, but lost the case on 29 August 2008. The Monastery then appealed the decision of the Registration court to the local Midyat court at which point the surrounding villages claimed an additional 190 Hectares of Monastery land. Following the Monastery victory in May 2009 at the local Midyat court, the neigbouring villages appealed the decision to the Ankara court in June 2009.

Since the Midyat court victory, the Monastery was confident that the Ankara Supreme Court would uphold the original lower court decision. The Midyat Court decision originally found that the neighboring villages of Yayvantepe and Eğlence had no basis on which to argue that the some 300 Hectares of land belonged to them. This evidence presented by the Monastery, relating to land title and financial/tax documents, undoubtedly showed ownership of the land by the Monastery.

However, in a remarkable decision, the Ankara Court decided on 13 August 2010 that the Midyat Court, which officially began hearing the trial on 19 November 2008, never had jurisdiction to hear the case in the first instance. This means that the boundary lines drafted by the Midyat Cadastre Directorate back in 2008 are back in effect and that the Midyat court case proclaiming victory for the Monastery of its original Boundary lines is null and void.

The Monastery now has an urgent decision to make in response to Ankara’s unjust decision. The options available to the Monastery are as follows:

  1. Appeal the decision back to the Ankara Supreme Court, arguing that the judge is wrong in law and that the Midyat court did have jurisdiction to make the decision in favour of the Monastery. The SUA expects that the chance of victory in this situation will be very small; or take the case to the local Mardin court to be heard instead, although this would involve commencing the cases all over again, thus making all the hearings from Midyat since December 2008 worthless.
  2. Another option to be considered by the Monastery is to commence proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This follows from a spate of similar cases at the ECHR (almost 100 in 2009) which ruled that Turkey had violated ones right to a fair and quick trial. Arguing unreasonable length in proceedings by the Turkish Court system may be an avenue through which the trial can be moved to Strasbourg. The Monastery could potentially take this path after all domestic remedies have been exhausted, according to the generally recognised rules of international law, and within a period of six months from the date on which the final decision was taken. Additionally, there may be ground for arguing violation of right to the protection of property, right to a fair trial and right to freedom of religion.

Despite all the above options being available, inside sources inform the SUA that the Monastery will appeal the decision back to the Ankara Supreme Court.

Mr Daniel Gabriel, the SUA Human Rights and UN NGO Director states that “I am shocked by this decision. As a lawyer myself, it makes no logical sense at all. But I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised given the history of Turkey’s judicial system and constant abuse of human rights within the country. The court case was heard for 18 months in Midyat with no one suggesting for a moment that the court didn’t have jurisdiction. Now it goes to Ankara and they decide after 14 months of consideration that the Midyat case is abrogated? This flies in the face of all the fundamental principles of the European Union and the Council of Europe. This is another shocking example of Turkey’s backward legal system and its desire to acquire the land of the Aramean (Syriac) people and diminish their rights once again.”

Mr Johny Messo, President of the Syriac Universal Alliance states that “to argue that the Midyat Court does not have jurisdiction in such legal matters is plain incorrect. Local courts in Turkey have legitimately held similar land cases in the past. There is something else definitely going on here and we must all begin to acknowledge that the justice system in Turkey is intentionally taking aim at the Aramean (Syriac) people – causing delays, heartache, insecurity, financial ruin and continued human rights abuse.”

The SUA urgently calls upon the general public, media outlets and all those concerned with protecting human rights, to help the Aramean (Syriac) people. The Monastery is now at a crossroads. It has until 5 September 2010 to appeal the decision back to Ankara (which appears likely). As stated previously, the two remaining options are to begin a trial in Mardin at huge legal expense again or it can simply admit defeat in the Turkish legal system and go to Strasbourg as the Syriac Universal Alliance recommends.

In addition to all this, there are still four (4) other land related cases taking place in and around the Monastery. These cases are as follows:

  1. Forestry Land Case 1: inside the outer wall – 20. Law Department –2009/14177 basic;
  2. Forestry Land Case 2: outside the outer wall – 20. Law Department –2009/14178 basic;
  3. State Treasury Land Case: 20. Law Department –2009/15267 basic; and
  4. Kuryakos Foundation Case: Midyat Local Court (adjourned) – Postponed to 3 November 2010.

Throughout the southeast of Turkey, there are approximately 30 Aramean (Syriac) populated villages which face similar issues of land theft, occupation and judicial prejudice and unfairness.




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