Syriacs continue battle over religious buildings

Syriacs continue battle over religious buildings

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Syriacs continue battle over religious buildings

The Syriac Catholic Patriarchate land, which includes a church, is in a poor condition now

Mardin’s Syriacs will continue their legal battle after Mor Gabriel, seeking to reclaim their rights to Syriac Catholic Patriarchate land and the Mor Efrem Monastery.

Despite a decree signed in 2011 to return property taken away from them, minorities have yet to take their lands back. Münir Üçkardeş, a member of the Mardin Syriac Catholics Foundation, said the Constitutional Court had ruled against them, who will take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

“We are sons of this country, we don’t want to complain about our country [to international institutions],” Üçkardeş told the Hürriyet Daily News during an Aug. 5 iftar dinner where members of minorities gathered and presented their problems to state officials. “If [Turkish institutions] step back from the mistake, we could withdraw from taking the issue to the ECHR.”

Controversial status

The Directorate General of Foundations head Adnan Ertem said some developments could happen in the Mor Gabriel case, but the other buildings exceeded the body’s authority.

“As the Directorate General of Foundations, it is impossible for us to respond to all problems,” Ertem told the Daily News. “Issues of expropriation are subjects of general law, so there is not much we can do about the patriarchate land.”

Mor Gabriel is a 1,700-year-old monastery located in Mardin’s Midyat district. In 2008, the Forestry Ministry, the Land Registry Office and the villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence sued the monastery for allegedly occupying their fields. The court recognized the monastery as an “occupier,” after which the case was brought to the ECHR.

Ertem also criticized the community for “not appealing between 1940 and 1960,” noting that legally, appeals should have been made in the 10 years following the expropriation, and once this term is exceeded, it leads to foreclosure. “Minority communities should self-criticize on that issue,” he said.

Ankara has been working on the return of Syriac Orthodox and Catholic Patriarchates to Turkey from Damascus and Beirut, respectively.

“Ankara is making a call to patriarchs and probably mulling returning the lands by allocating them, without giving the ownership,” Üçkardeş said. “However, our patriarchs will not return on such conditions.”

Currently, both the patriarchate land, which includes a church, and the Mor Efrem Monastery are in poor condition. Books, paintings and icons are not treated well and need to be treated well in order to avoid irreparable damage.

“It breaks our hearts,” Üçkardeş said.