The sites belong to the Syriac Orthodox community of Mardin, southeastern Turkey. The dispute will be settled by legal means. Until the ownership question is not settled, the properties will not be "transferred" to the Religious Affairs Directorate. For the Federation of Arameans (Syriacs) in Switzerland, any confiscation would be “illegitimate”. Turkey’s Christian cultural heritage is at risk.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Turkish authorities have put on hold the transfer of more than 50 churches and monasteries belonging to the Syriac Orthodox community of Madin, in Tur Abdin, a region in south-eastern Turkey, to the Religious Affairs Directorate for (Diyanet), the Doğan news agency reported yesterday.
The Mardin Governor's Office said the issue must be legally resolved. Until then, the properties in question will not be turned over to the Directorate. Thus, the expropriation of more than 50 buildings – including churches, monasteries and cemeteries that are part of the region’s ancient Christian cultural and religious heritage – will not go ahead. They will still be registered with the Treasury until a final solution is found.
The decision to transfer the properties dates back to 2014 and follows Mardin’s administrative re-organisation as a metropolitan municipality incorporating surrounding villages, which became city wards. The move sparked protests and outrage among local and international Christian communities.
Kuryakos Ergün, head of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation (pictured), one of the places of worship in question, said that the dispute has not yet been resolved, although the place of use of the places of worship would continue as it stands.
He said that hopes that ownership would be transferred to the Foundation and that the same would happen to all the other churches and monasteries, which are part and parcel of the region’s Christian cultural and historic heritage.
The Federation of Arameans (Syriacs) in Switzerland also intervened in the dispute. In an official statement sent to AsiaNews, it expressed its opposition to what it considers an "illegitimate expropriation" of Turkey’s Christian cultural heritage.
In announcing legal battle, the Federation’s president, Melki Toprak, called the unchanged situation "alarming" because now it is now up to Ankara to decide on ownership.
The leaders of the Christian places of worship sent a joint statement to the Turkish Interior Ministry to stop seizing assets and properties. If the appeal were ignored, all this would lead to "the final extinction of Christianity, of our ethnicity and Aramean culture in Turkey".
"So far, Arameans in Turkey, as well as other minorities, are still not recognised and therefore do not fully enjoy human rights, including freedom of worship and property rights,” the Federation statement said.
“The acquisition, preservation and construction of properties by the churches is hampered by huge bureaucratic difficulties." The situation remains "critical" from a human and legal point of view.
At the start of the 20th century the Aramean population in Tur Abdin was around half a million. At present, a small community of about 2,000 people survives, whilst another 20,000 live in Istanbul.