21February2018

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION IN SPECIAL CONSULTATIVE STATUS WITH THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

New Turkish bill and European Parliament Resolution on Christian property issues

The European Parliament has expressed its concerns over the more than 50 seized Aramean churches, monasteries and other assets in Turkey. Yesterday’s adopted resolution calls on the European Commission to raise this issue with Turkey. Meanwhile, the state’s officials and Aramean representatives are negotiating a bill to return the confiscated properties.

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The issue concerning Aramean properties in and around Mardin started in June 2017, when the city was joined with smaller villages to form the metropolitan city of Mardin. This legal change resulted in the seizure of more than 50 Aramean churches, monasteries and other assets by the state treasury. This decision, which had shocking consequences, followed an earlier large-scale expropriation of lands, which received attention since 2008 with the court cases of St. Gabriel Monastery (founded in 397) and many other monasteries, churches and landowners that are still waiting to be resolved.

The new property cases in the southeastern province of Mardin are specifically mentioned in yesterday’s adopted resolution on the human rights situation in Turkey by the European Parliament. Article 10 of the declaration states that the European Parliament

“is seriously concerned about the lack of respect for the freedom of religion, including the increased discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities; condemns the confiscation of 50 Aramean churches, monasteries and cemeteries in Mardin; calls on the Commission to urgently address these issues with the Turkish authorities.”

Asked about the inclusion of Arameans, Ms. Esther de Lange, the Dutch Christian Democrat and Vice-Chair of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament who initiated this resolution, told the WCA: “The EPP is seriously concerned about the dwindling presence of the Aramean Christians and their cultural heritage. We call upon the Turkish Government to safeguard and appreciate its indigenous people and this rich part of its national heritage.”

Regarding the Mardin property issues, initial promises had been made to return them to their rightful owners and inaccurate media reports have appeared that some or all of the seized assets had been returned. In reality, nothing has been returned yet and little had changed until two days ago.

Following intense dialogues and cooperation, Turkish state officials and Aramean representatives have reached the final phase of negotiating a bill that would see the return of Aramean properties. Although the ancient St. Melke, St. Yakup and St. Dimet monasteries are among the main 30 or so assets to be returned, the Arameans hope to receive all their assets back.

The WCA President, Johny Messo, underlines the importance of the introduction, completeness and implementation of the forthcoming bill, stating: “We are hopeful that the Turkish Parliament will soon adopt a new law that enables the return of our properties and lands. We further hope that the Turkish Government will provide additional measures to support its ancient Aramean population and cultural heritage.”

Less than 2,000 Arameans have remained in Tur-Abdin, which is Aramaic for “Mountain of the Servants” of God. This formerly Aramean Christian region in Southeast Turkey is sometimes called ‘The Mount Athos of the East’. In the last decades, tens of thousands of Arameans from the Tur-Abdin region who still speak the ‘language of Jesus’ have left their ancestral homeland.

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For immediate release | Click here to download the press release in PDF 

 

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