01/14/2020, 16.52
TURKEY
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Turkish authorities arrest three Christians in the southeast, among them a monk

Fr. Sefer (Aho) Bileçen, of the church of Mor Yakup in the province of Mardin. The prosecutor did not formalize the charge, nor did he provide explanations. According to local sources, he distributed bread to members of the PKK. For the crime of "terrorism" he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Turkish authorities have arrested an Assyrian priest from the church of Mor Yakup, better known as the church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis, in the south-eastern province of Mardin.

The area has a Kurdish majority where there have been tensions with the central government for some time. News of the arrest of Sefer (Aho) Bileçen on January 9 was only reported in recent days following complaints on social media by activists and faithful of the local Assyrian and Chaldean communities.

So far no official reasons have been given for his arrest. Local sources report that the public prosecutor allegedly secreted the file and did not disclose the (alleged) charges against the religious. However, according to some testimonies, he was arrested and charged - along with two other Christians in the area - for crimes related to "terrorism".

A local source speaking on condition of anonymity says that the Assyrian monk faces a sentence of five to 10 years in prison "for distributing bread to PKK members", the Kurdistan Workers' Party outlawed in Turkey and whose leader Abdullah Öcalan has been in prison since 1999.

On 9 January, the source continues, Turkish forces searched the monastery which lies in one of the areas where the clash between the Turks and Kurdish independence activists arose and of which the monk is custodian.

In the past, the monk decided to reopen the structure, long abandoned and in ruins, asking for permission from the bishop of the area. Thanks to the efforts made by Fr. Aho, the monastery (dating back to 1500) was able to reopen its doors and welcome faithful and priests. His work did not go unnoticed among the Turkish authorities, who ordered his arrest for "complicity with the terrorists".

Yuhanna Aktaş, head of the Assyrian community in Mardin, complains about the lack of information regarding the arrest of the priest. "The church of Mor Yakup - he underlines - is located on Mount Balotelli, and there is not even a house around it. Aho Bileçen is very young. He left Istanbul and came here. There is no one around him, except for a handful of students. It is not clear - Aktas concludes - why a priest should be arrested".

Contacted by International Christian Concern Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist for years in the United States, reports that "this latest arrest of three Assyrians can be linked to the incessant conflicts between the PKK and the Turkish army".

Unfortunately, he adds, "the Assyrians are in the midst of these two hostile groups." Between the 1980s and 1990s, during the height of the armed conflict between Kurds and Turks, thousands of Assyrian villages in the southeast of the country were evacuated. And many of the Christians have been forced to abandon their homes and lands in search of salvation

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