Syriacs frustrated by trial deciding fate of monastery

Syriacs frustrated by trial deciding fate of monastery

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Syriacs frustrated by trial deciding fate of monastery

The trial on the Mor Gabriel Monastery, or ‘Deyrulumur’ in Syriac, was filed in 2008. Hürriyet photo

Syriac Christians living both in Turkey and abroad are growing weary over an ongoing trial about the fate of their most revered place of worship, the 1,700-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery in the southeastern province of Mardin. The case is presented to the public as if it were merely a simple suit filed by villagers, whereas in truth, the trial has transformed into a political one, Evgil Türker, the head of the Federation of Syriac Associations, recently told the Daily News.

“There are currently a total of five more lawsuits that were filed by the Forestry [and Waterworks] Ministry, [the Directorate of Land Registry and] Cadastre, the Treasury and [one trial] against the administrators of the Mor Gabriel Foundation, in addition to the current trial that seems as if it were opened by villagers [but] is backed by locals,” Türker said.

The current trial regarding the Mor Gabriel Monastery, or “Deyrulumur” in Syriac, was filed in 2008, and the next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2012, in Mardin’s Midyat district.

“We very much would have wanted the trial to reach a conclusion in Turkey. Lands that had been ours for thousands of years were expropriated. We wanted the trial to reach a resolution very much but to no avail,” Türker said, adding that they could not file any suits to retrieve thousands of hectares of expropriated land due to fear and financial constraints.

The Forestry Ministry claims the monastery lands constitute a forest, he said. Syriac representatives have consequently brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights, though the first hearing is yet to be held.

As more and more villagers began settling on the lands in question, the monastery was gradually encircled by the communities. The inhabitants of the villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence subsequently filed a suit against the monastery in 2008 on the grounds that it was occupying their lands.

“Our sanctity was violated with this case. What Jerusalem means to the Christian world, Mor Gabriel means that to Syriacs,” Tuma Çelik, the head of the Turkey branch of the European Syriacs Union, told the Daily News.

The Supreme Court of Appeals overturns the decisions of local Midyat courts that rule in favor of the Syriac community, Çelik added.

Syriacs were caught in the crossfire during clashes between government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast during the mid-1980s. Many of them have consequently left for abroad while the current Syriac population in Turkey is estimated to be in the thousands. “They ask us why we blow the monastery case out of proportion. They advance the decision made by the Swedish Parliament regarding the genocide of 1915,” Çelik said in reference to the alleged Syriac genocide.”