- Post 12 February 2016
Yesterday, 10 February 2016, the President of the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) Mr. Johny Messo met with Turkey’s Prime Minister His Excellency Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu in The Hague, the Netherlands. They touched on Syria-related issues and discussed the future of Turkey’s indigenous Aramean minority group.
Although aware that countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Greece carry the heavy burden of the refugee crisis that is still growing, the WCA requested the Turkish Government whether it is able to find ways to provide sufficient humanitarian assistance to the tens of thousands of Aramean refugees from Syria and Iraq who are scattered across Turkey. For they are not registered at the UNHCR refugee camps. The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude to the local Aramean refugee committees in Istanbul, Mardin and Midyat that help alleviate the refugee situation in the country. “We appreciate the Arameans,” he said, “and we will continue to do what we can to make the Aramean refugees from Syria and Iraq feel at home in Turkey.”
Since the kidnapping of the Archbishops of Aleppo, H.E. Gregorius Hanna Ibrahim and H.E. Boulos al-Yazigi, by a rebel group near the Turkish-Syrian border on 22 April 2013, nothing has been heard or seen from them. Asked about this situation, the Prime Minister explained that Turkey has no new information about this abduction case, which remains shrouded in obscurity. He assured: “We are still closely following this case and we are continuously trying to find out more about the kidnapped religious leaders.”
Concerning the current security operations in Southeast Turkey, particularly in Diyarbakir, the WCA stressed the need to ensure safety measures in the region, and pay special heed to the final remaining Aramean families, churches and monasteries. The Syriac Orthodox priest of Diyarbakir Fr. Yusuf Akbulut and his family recently had to flee their home and the 1700-year-old St. Mary Church as a result of these operations. The Prime Minister, having received Fr. Yusuf last week at his office in Ankara and later again in the city of Mardin, understood the concerns of the Arameans, reaffirming: “We really value the Aramean Christians, who have always been good citizens of Turkey, and we have great respect for the Aramean cultural heritage. Our security forces have been instructed to protect both civilians and heritage sites.”
The WCA President presented the Prime Minister a key document that summarizes what Turkey’s Arameans request from their Government. He noted that this paper was also given to Turkey’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Bülent Arinc, at the UN in Geneva last year (see here). Concerning a secure and bright future for the Arameans in Southeast Turkey, Mr. Messo noted: “We regard these ten points and the additional recommendations as a roadmap towards the potential reintegration of the Arameans in Turkey, their homeland. We realize that there is still a long road ahead of us to resolve existing questions that can and need to be turned into opportunities. Until then, however, we will continue to seek a constructive dialogue with Turkish state officials.”
The Prime Minister expressed appreciation for the WCA’s diplomatic approach and emphasized that the Aramean people should always remain connected with their homeland and, if possible, even return to Turkey. His Excellency Mr. Davutoğlu invited the WCA President for further talks in Ankara and stated: “Turkey is also your country. We invite you and our Aramean citizens in the diaspora countries to return home whenever they want.”
Mr. Messo thanked the Prime Minister for taking the time to meet with the WCA and discuss pertinent questions concerning the needs and challenges of the Arameans, despite his tight schedule during his one-day visit to The Netherlands. The Prime Minister was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Yalçın Akdoğan and the Turkish Ambassador to the Netherlands H.E. Mr. Sadık Arslan, whereas the WCA President was joined by the WCA UN NGO Director Ms. Sarah Bakir.
Then Turkey's Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was welcomed at the Aramaic association of St. Peter and Paul in Cologne (Köln), Germany, on 4 December 2011. Click here to watch his speech and that of WCA President Johny Messo. The Minister was accompanied by Turkey's Incumbent Ambassador, the New Ambassador and the Counsel General.
What do the Aramean (Syriac) People of Turkey want?
Meeting with His Excellency
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
10 February 2016
The World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) (“WCA”) welcomes the distinguished Delegation of Turkey, headed by His Excellency Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, to The Netherlands. As the indigenous people of Southeast Turkey, we request His Excellency’s Government to renew Turkey’s Constitution and to develop a comprehensive and all‐inclusive policy on minorities in compliance with international treaties, conventions and standards. We also would like to bring to Turkey’s immediate attention the following issues, recommendations and opportunities.
RECOMMENDATIONS: WE ASK TURKEY TO
1. Officially recognize the Arameans as a ‘minority’, in line with the Lausanne Treaty and the existing international treaties on minority rights that are especially guaranteed by the UN;
2. Officially recognize the Arameans as ‘indigenous people’ of Southeast Turkey, in keeping with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples signed by Turkey in 2007 and Resolution 1704 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
3. End the delays of legal cases that ancient monasteries, villages and proprietors are facing, as noted by the European Court of Human Rights Annual Reports;
4. Stop the illegal expropriation of huge amounts of land that historically and legally belongs to the Aramean people, as affirmed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
5. Accept its responsibility in restoring, safeguarding, developing and promoting the endangered Aramaic cultural heritage in Southeast Turkey;
6. Take historic steps in funding schools that teach Aramaic in the Aramaic language, train teachers of this language and prepare textbooks and materials that will be used at such schools;
7. Assist and sponsor the Aramean Diaspora that originates from Turkey in effectively preserving the threatened Aramaic language, culture and identity;
8. To invest structurally in its south-eastern region, particularly to improve the security, infrastructure, job employment and facilities for attractive life circumstances in the area;
9. Ensure that the Tur-Abdin region in Southeast Turkey continues to be populated by its original inhabitants and that measures are taken to increase the current Aramean population of 3,000 souls who are struggling for survival and a brighter future in Tur-Abdin.
10. Offer a sincere explanation for the loss of 500,000 innocent Arameans in its south-eastern territory between 1895-1923, which experts qualify as a ‘genocide’, and a solution for this issue.
GENERAL RECOMMENDATIONS OR OPPORTUNITIES
The WCA has five additional recommendations for Turkey which, if implemented, will improve the situation in our homeland and the dialogue between the Turkish Government and the Aramean people. There are indeed many opportunities which we should jointly pursue and work on together.
We have excluded from this online document our five unique ideas and proposals,
which we plan to implement and realize in 2016.
If the Turkish Government has the political will to work with the Arameans in order to turn existing issues into solutions and opportunities, the WCA is assured that we will improve the situation of the Aramean people and secure a bright future for them in their homeland. For Turkey, too, there is much to gain here. Everything boils down to Turkey’s willingness to recognize and appreciate our existence, in addition to equal rights that are constitutionally guaranteed and implemented.
# On 27 January 2015, the WCA met with Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Bülent Arınç, at the United Nations Office in Geneva and presented this same key document to him and his high-level delegation. See here.
24-26 January 2011: Strasbourg, France, Council of Europe. Press Conference by then Turkish President Abdullah Gül (left) & Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, then President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 2010 to 2012 (right). Then Turkey's Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu (left) was standing there as well as WCA President Johny Messo (right).