RIGHTS >Christian refugees face difficulties, hide religion in Turkey

Rifat Başaran - ANKARA

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Some 45,000 Christians who fled Syria and Iraq are forced to hide their religious identity in the Turkish provinces of Yozgat, Aksaray and Çorum. 

Around 45,000 Armenians, Syriacs and Chaldean Christians who fled to Turkey have applied to the United Nations to be able to go on to the U.S., Canada or Austria and have been granted residency in Turkey until 2023. Most now live in small Anatolian cities including Yozgat, Aksaray, Çorum, Amasya, Kırşehir, Erzurum, and Afyonkarahisar.

The Syriac and Armenian Patriarchates, the Istanbul Syriac Orthodox Church and a number of NGOs are supporting many of these refugees financially, but their problems go far beyond financial struggles.

For the Armenians, the situation has a historic angle, as many are returning to lands that their ancestors were forced to leave 100 years ago.

Anonis Alis Salciyan, an Armenian who fled Iraq one year ago with her family and then settled in the Central Anatolian city of Yozgat, told Hürriyet that they pretended to be Muslim in public. A picture of the Virgin Mary hung on the wall next to a plastic Christmas tree in the room where the Salciyan family lives. 

Anonis’ ancestors were driven from Anatolia by the Ottoman authorities and local Muslims a century ago. One hundred years later, they have once again been forced to leave their country.

“My family was originally from [the southeastern Turkish province of] Van. My husband’s family came from [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep. My husband and I fled [Iraq] with our two children one year ago with around 20 other families. There was pressure on us in Iraq,” Anonis’ said, recalling that her husband, who ran a jewelry shop in Iraq, is unemployed in Yozgat.

 “We have relatives in Europe. We are only getting by thanks to their support,” she added.

Salciyan also said her children were struggling in their new life in Turkey because they cannot speak the language. 

“Our children cannot go to school here because they cannot speak Turkish. They can only communicate with the children of other Armenian families who have moved here,” she said. 

Girl who hasn’t spoken since ISIL raided home in Baghdad

Linda and Vahan Markaryan also decided to flee to Turkey with their two children when their home in Baghdad was raided by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“When ISIL militants raided our house in Baghdad last year, my daughter Nuşik was seven. She stopped talking on that day and has never spoken again since then. We are now living in Yozgat. We are working hard to provide her treatment, but she still won’t speak,” said Linda.

“We do not have a future here. Everything in our lives is uncertain. Our only wish is to provide a better future for our children in a place where they are safe and secure,” she added.

She also said it was hard for them to practice their religion because of public pressure. 

“We are pious people, but we have to conduct our sermons and prayers at home. This is hard,” she said. 
Her husband, who was an electricity technician in Baghdad, said he struggled to work in Yozgat. 

“We are only working in temporary jobs in places like construction sites. The others workers [Turkish citizens] are paid around 100 Turkish Liras a day but we are only paid 25 liras a day for the same work. We cannot demand our rights,” he said. 

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Selina Doğan, who is also of Armenian origin, has visited Armenian families in Yozgat during preparation of a report for the CHP’s Research Commission on Migrants and Refugees.


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