Call for Recognition and Support of the Endangered Aramean (Syriac) People in Turkey

Stockholm, 7 November 2013

Today, 7 November 2013, Mr. Kenan Anter and Mr. Gabriel Bozyel, respectively the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Syriac Federation of Sweden, met in Stockholm with the Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, Mr. Egemen Bağış. On behalf of the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) and the Syriac Federation of Sweden, Mr. Anter discussed the Aramean question in Turkey and submitted a letter to Mr. Erdogan. The writing encourages the Turkish Government to continue developing its democratization efforts, and also calls upon the Government to recognize and support the endangered Aramean people in Turkey.

Click here to download the letter

The World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) and the Syriac Federation of Sweden (SRF) appeal to you on behalf of the endangered Aramean (Syriac; Süryani in Turkish) people, who are indigenous to, but not yet officially recognized and supported by, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

In May 2009, Your Excellency boldly declared that in the past century the non-Muslim minorities have suffered a lot and in many ways in Turkey, stating: “This mindset has seemingly not changed. It has been the same for many years in this country. They have chased members of different ethnicities out of this country. Have we won? This was the result of a fascist mentality.” Today, four years later, one is compelled to review the onground reality with Your Excellency’s comment.

The first major step in burying this attitude of the “old Turkey” with its denialist and assimilation policies was the latest democratization package, which you called a “historic moment for Turkey.” We encourage and support you to continue your reform efforts in shaping the “new Turkey.” We consider the package a first major initiative in preserving the endangered ethno-religious minorities in Turkey. It contains dozens of promising points, although we regret to announce that it also had shortcomings, including (but not limited to) the following important cases:

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  • In 2003, the AKP Government noted that it sought a solution to reopen the Halki Seminary, which is vital for the survival of Turkey’s last 3,000 Greeks. This Theological School was closed in 1971 with a letter from the Education Ministry and it can be reopened with an order from Your Excellency, which would set the right example towards the new Turkey.
  • The Kurdish issue impacts all segments of Turkish society and thus needs to be resolved. We support the path of dialogue to reach a peaceful and lasting solution to this question.
  • We also believe that the Alevi places of worship deserve to be recognized and appreciated.
  • We hope to see clearer language and fair laws on the restitution of all the confiscated assets and properties in the past of the non-Muslim minorities and foundations.
  • Concerning the Arameans, we wish to bring these three points to your immediate attention:

1. Constitutional Recognition: The Arameans virtually do not exist yet within Turkish society. It is just and reasonable, and even necessary for their survival in their ancestral land, to have the new Constitution recognize, protect and promote the Aramean people as a minority, which moreover is indigenous to Southeast Turkey, in conformity with the Lausanne Treaty and related international conventions which guarantee their basic human rights and dignity. This shall include, but not be limited to, developing their education and carrying out religious services in their threatened Aramaic mother tongue.

2. Ongoing expropriation of Aramean lands. In the democratization package you promised: “The land of the Mor Gabriel Monastery will return to the Monastery’s foundation.” We warmly welcome your promise, but regret to state that this question still has not been solved and that the injustice continues. This decision concerns only the 12 parcels of land which the State Treasury had confiscated from the Monastery, not the entire confiscated land. Moreover, there is a plethora of evidence showing that a significant amount of land has been, and continues to be, expropriated in Southeast Turkey which historically and legally belongs to many ancient Aramean monasteries, churches and landowners. The WCA is finalizing an initial detailed report which provides proof from more than 30 cities, towns and villages faced with unlawful appropriation of land which continues to remain unresolved.

3. Reassessment of Syria Policy: H.E. President Abdullah Gül said in a recent interview that Turkey used to talk to President Assad, “because we wanted things to be resolved by peaceful means. That engagement was at all levels.” He complained “about the high rhetoric of the international community,” meaning that Turkey’s mediation efforts at the beginning of the Syria crisis did not receive any support and were even undermined by the West. He rightly predicts the consequences of radicalization of groups in the civil war, dividing and spreading across the country, posing a danger and threat for Turkey and the wider region. Having experienced the spillover effects of the turmoil in Syria, we ask Your Excellency and the AKP Government to reassess Turkey’s policy on Syria and return to its initial attempts of dialogue with neighboring Syria in order to reach a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this bloody conflict which has led to an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

Although Arameans with time have become a minority, they are also native to Southeast Turkey, unlike other minorities which have fairly recently established themselves in our ancestral land. Threatened with imminent extinction in their ancient homeland, one would expect that Turkey’s modern leadership would exert all its efforts in avoiding this realistic catastrophe from occurring.

We have more crucial points to bring to your attention and look forward to discuss them with Your Excellency in Ankara during a meeting on Turkey’s relationship with and the role of the Aramean (Syriac) people in Turkey’s democratization process and the EU accession talks.

We are hopeful that you will take our considerations and requests into account.

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