Syriacs in Turkey and their rights

Syriacs in Turkey and their rights

The Syriacs, also referred to as Arameans, in Sweden enjoy a privileged status and extensive rights in political parties and the bureaucracy. Five years ago, during the discussions over the Swedish national budget, the amount allocated to the king raised a controversy. A Syriac bureaucrat from Tur Abdin concluded that the amount allocated to the king was too much and thus opposed it.

The king thought about this matter and in the end, decided to send a letter to İbrahim Baylan to tell him that the budget reserved for the royal family was not enough and asked for his support to raise this amount. However, Baylan remained decisive in his stance and informed the king in writing that “I regret to inform you that the Swedish state budget is not adequate to honor your demand.”

The Syriacs who hold such prestigious and crucial positions in Sweden left Turkey in the 1980s and fled to Europe or the United States. During the period between 1987 and 1994, more than 50 Syriacs including a mayor (the only Syriac who served as mayor in the region in the history of Turkey) and a doctor were murdered in the region; the murders still remain unresolved. In the aftermath of the murders, the Syriacs in Midyat were undecided: they could either leave their homes or take their risks by staying. The conditions and offers by the state were clear: You can go to mountains and join the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and fight against us, or you can serve as village guards on our side to fight against the PKK.

The Syriacs took up neither of these offers. Instead, they called their relatives and friends in Europe to ask for help. There was nothing else that they could do. The reforms that the government introduced over the last five years must have encouraged them such that some Syriac families decided to return to Turkey. At this time, a lawsuit was filed on the land of the Mor Gabriel Monastery. The monastery is also known as Deyrulumur and is located along İdil road, a few kilometers away from Midyat.

The lands surrounding this 1,600-year-old sacred place which Syriacs from all over the world visit every year have become the subject of a legal action and disagreement. The administrators of the villages near the monastery argued that the lands of the villages were unjustly occupied by the monastery's administration. The administrators of the three villages filed a suit with the courts, asking for the return of some of the lands from the monastery.

Syriacs became more well-known in Turkey and around the world after this case. Domestic and foreign delegations headed to Midyat to monitor the lawsuit and the process. The Syriacs won the case but the Court of Appeals overturned the local court's decision. Subsequently, the case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Mor Gabriel case also brought the rights of Syriacs under the Lausanne Treaty to the fore and some Syriac institutions and groups started making references to these rights in Turkey and Europe. The Syriacs stress that the lands of Mor Gabriel should be preserved and raised the following demands:

  • Syriac monasteries and churches should be protected by the state but should also remain in the hands of Syriacs.
  • Syriacs should be recognized as a non-Muslim minority who are eligible to enjoy the rights recognized under the Lausanne Treaty (Syriacs have never enjoyed the minority rights as spelt out in this treaty).
  • Syriacs should be allowed to open their educational institutions to offer religious training; however, in addition to this, the state should provide financial support to these institutions as well.
  • In a recent report, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) notes that the Syriac language faces the risk of extinction in Turkey. Proper measures should be taken to address this problem. The visit by President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Sweden was an important event to deal with Syriacs' problems.

Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/columnist-309852-syriacs-in-turkey-and-their-rights.html


Comments of the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) ("WCA")

The columnist seems to be impressed by what the Aramean people, who are indigenous to Southeast Turkey, have achieved in Sweden, one of the countries where they have sought refuge since the 1970s. More specifically, by their political clout.

For the WCA, these and other accomplishments are simply due to the fact that the Aramean people, after they fled Turkey where they were not recognized, but in fact discriminated against, persecuted and uprooted, finally were able to live in a truly democratic society where they could enjoy equal citizenship.

They have no "privileged status and extensive rights", as the writer put it. They have equal rights, chances and obligations, just like any other citizen of the Swedish nation. That the Arameans are a people with remarkable qualities and talents is clear from their ancient and glorious history. The ancestors of the present-day Arameans and their Aramaic language and script have also played significant roles in the pre-Christian and early Christian eras.

The columnist refers to one Swedish Member of Parliament (MP). Today there are, in fact, six Aramean MPs in Sweden. We even have a football club from Södertälje called Syrianska FC which is playing in the highest league, and a lot more that makes us proud.

Again, the Aramean people are native (no newcomers!) to Southeast Turkey and they have lived there for more than 3,000 years. All they ask for is recognition of their indigenous presence in addition to equal treatment and opportunities.



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