11/09/2023, 18.43
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Christians in the crosshairs, a 92-year-old killed in a land dispute in Mardin

The man and his wife were returning home after visiting neighbours. The murder took place at 11 pm; the elderly man was hit by five bullets and died in hospital. For some local politicians, a campaign is underway to "frighten, intimidate and drive away Syriacs”.


Istanbul (AsiaNews) – A 92-year-old Syriac elder, Gavriye Akgüç, was shot dead in his home garden in Enil, a village in Midyat district, in the southeastern Mardin province.

Local sources report that the attackers fired five bullets at the man, who was rushed to hospital but died from his injuries.

Residents believe that religion played a part in the incident, the latest involving Turkey’s Christian minority. For George Aslan, a Syriac member of the leftist environmentalist Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP), a campaign is underway “to frighten, intimidate, and drive away the Syriacs".

Akgüç was killed on Monday, around 11 pm, on his way home from a neighbour’s house with his wife, when he was suddenly hit, Veysi Parıltı, president of the Mardin Human Rights Association (IHD) told the Bianet news agency.

The police have arrested 11 people in connection with the murder, stressing that they want to shed full light on the matter. One of the people arrested is the son of a village guard.

Gavriye Akgüç and his wife lived in Istanbul for the past 10 years, but in the last year and a half they spent more time in the village, this according to Yuhanna Aktaş, an IHD member living in Midyat.

Some sources suggest that Akgüç may have been killed in a dispute over land used by other people for several years, especially since the local Christian community began to claim ownership after land registration began in 2006.

This has created tensions and disputes in the local population; the victim himself had recently found himself embroiled in a row.

Intimidation and forced migration of minorities, combined with the seizure of their property, are not new. What is more, between 1990 and 2000, 52 Syriacs were murdered in Midyat alone and their killers are still on the run.

Gavriye Akgüç and his wife were the last of their generation who planned to live in the village; their children reside abroad and have no connection to the village.

It is widely believed that the victim was killed in order to seize disputed land. After the autopsy, the body will rest in the chapel of the local church until the arrival of the victim’s children and relatives, followed by burial in the family plot in an Istanbul cemetery.

Syriac MP George Ario condemned the murder of the elderly man. He speculates that the killing was carried out to intimidate Syriacs who want to return to their villages.

Ario appealed to the Turkish government, calling for the identities of the perpetrators to be revealed.

A few days ago, a Syriac man from the village of Iwardo (Gülgöze) was "beaten by the village guards,” George Aslan said.

While Freedom of worship is guaranteed in Turkey, freedom of religion has been violated on a number of occasions in the recent past. The Turkish government itself has interfered in the selection of Church leaders.

Some churches and Church-owned buildings have been confiscated and repurposed, including Christian basilicas (Haya Sophia and Chora)

Serious acts of violence against Christians have been reported, like the murder of Christian clerics, most notably Fr Andrea Santoro in 2006 and Bishop Luigi Padovese in 2010. A US clergyman, Rev Andrew Brunson, was also detained and later released. 

A Christian couple also went missing, and the body of the woman was eventually found.

In recent months, there have also been cases of land disputes, desecration of cemeteries and expropriation of places of worship. 

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