Mardin's ancient Christian cemetery desecrated, tombs destroyed
AsiaNews source: "Difficult" to establish the "matrix" of the attack, but it represents a sign of "intolerance"; important to catch those responsible. The cemetery vandalised on the feast of Saint Peter and Paul, Assyrian tombs over a thousand years old damaged. Bones of the dead and sacred objects thrown outside, the local community express grief and despair.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Assyrian tombs over a thousand years old destroyed and desecrated, bones of the dead and other sacred objects thrown outside. This latest, worrying episode of intolerance against a Christian place in Turkey took place on June 29 on the feast of Saint Peter and Paul, but the news has only emerged in recent days. Visiting the cemetery located in the Yemişli district of Midyat, in the southeastern province of Mardin, already the scene of intolerance episodes in the recent past, Christians made the bitter discovery.
An institutional source in Turkey cspoke to AsiaNews, on condition of anonymity, emphasising that "it is difficult" to attribute a clear "matrix" to events of this kind, which do however represent "important signs of intolerance". The source continues "it is important that the police open an investigation and catch those responsible, so that we can establish the facts. The source concludes: "It is equally important to give prominence to the news so that episodes of this kind cannot be forgotten or downplayed".
Eyewitnesses recount that the cemetery chapel, dedicated to the two apostles that the Church celebrates on 29 June, the day of the attack, was built in 1967 within a burial ground that contains tombs dating back even to the first millennium. Every year, the local community - made up of Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christians - visits the tombs on the feast day to pray and perform votive rites in front of the saints and the tombs of their ancestors.
The discovery of the desecrated tombs aroused sorrow and despair within the Christian community, which received the support and solidarity of the Yazidis living in the area, where the seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, which later moved to Syria, once stood. In the past decade, during the first phase of the Syrian conflict, the area saw the arrival of a substantial flow of Christian refugees, in some cases opposed by the Muslim majority.
In the past, Mardin province was the scene of several episodes of violence and abuse against Christians. In one case, an Assyrian monk Sefer (Aho) Bileçen was convicted in 2021 and sentenced to more than two years in prison for allegedly helping a “terrorist organisation”.
In fact, all he did was to give a piece of bread and some water to people who had knocked at the doors of his convent. According to Turkish authorities, those people were members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
The clergyman’s conviction came at a time of repeated rights’ violations and abuses, such as the sale online of a centuries-old Armenian church, the holding of a barbecue in the historic Armenian church of Sourp Asdvadzadzi and the conversions into mosques of the ancient Christian basilicas of Hagia Sophia and Chora after they were turned into museums following the establishment of the Turkish Republic under Atatürk.
Such controversial decisions were made against the backdrop of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policy mixing nationalism and Islam as a way to hold onto power and distract the public from the country’s economic crisis and the COVID-19 emergency.