The Persecution of Christians in Turkey
The Syriacs are an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey and were one of the first groups of people to accept Christianity.
They told the priest that that unless the bell tower was destroyed in one week, they would kill him. The Muslims were apparently acting in reaction to the recent referendum in Switzerland, which banned the construction of new minarets for mosques.
According to the report Meryem Ana is more than 250 years old and is one of a handful of churches that serve the Syriac community in Turkey.
The Syriacs are an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey and were one of the first groups of people to accept Christianity, said the article by Compass News Direct.
The year had started badly, with a land dispute involving one of the world’s oldest Christian monasteries, reported Reuters, Jan. 21. The fifth-century Syriac monastery Mor Gabriel is located in Midyat, a village near the border with Syria.
"This is our land. We have been here for more than 1,600 years," said Kuryakos Ergun, head of the Mor Gabriel Foundation, according to the report.
Problems began when Turkish government officials redrew the boundaries around Mor Gabriel and the surrounding villages in 2008 as part of work to update a land registry.
According to the monks, the new boundaries take away from them large plots of land the monastery has owned for centuries. It also designates part of the monastery's land as public forest.
According to Reuters, there were 250,000 Syriacs when Ataturk founded Turkey after World War I. Today they number only 20,000, with many having left the country to escape persecution.
The Wall Street Journal published a lengthy article on the dispute over the monastery property on March 7. The article pointed out that the dispute comes at a critical moment in Turkey’s long-standing attempt to be accepted as a member of the European Union.
The monastery’s Bishop Timotheus Samuel Aktas presides over a dwindling community, made up of only 3 monks and 14 nuns. Locally, there are around 3,000 Syriacs.
The monastery, founded in 397, has a great symbolic importance, the article explained and is considered by Syriacs to be a sort of "second Jerusalem."
The battles are still continuing in the courts and, in another link with events in Switzerland, the Federal Council of Switzerland recently adopted a motion in support of the monastery in Turkey.
According to a Dec. 8 report by the Assyrian International News Agency the motion states:
"The Federal Council is to be asked to intervene with the Turkish government to ensure that the ownership of the Syriac Monasteries in southeast of Turkey continue to be guaranteed, and that the minority rights of Assyrians is respected according to the Copenhagen criteria."
The Copenhagen criteria refer to a series of principles that a country seeking to join the European Union, as Turkey is currently doing, must respect. One of them involves respect for human rights and the protection of minorities.
Other instances of intolerance punctuated the life of Christians in Turkey during the past 12 months. On Oct. 16 Compass Direct News reported on the trial of two Christians, accused of having insulted Islam.
Defense Attorney Haydar Polat said the trial was a scandal, pointing to the fact that in proceedings three of the witnesses for the prosecution admitted they did not even know the two Christians on trial.
Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal were arrested in October 2006 following charges that they had slandered Turkishness and Islam while talking about their faith with three young men in Silivri, a town about an hour’s drive west of Istanbul. They could be jailed for up to 2 years if found guilty of the charges.
The matter is still not over, with proceedings adjourned until Jan. 28, 2010, due to the court having repeated its summons to three more prosecution witnesses who failed to appear at the hearing.
Then, on Dec. 4 Compass Direct News published a report on a survey that showed more than half of the population of Turkey opposes members of other religions holding meetings or publishing materials to explain their faith.
The survey also found that almost 40% of the population of Turkey said they had "very negative" or "negative" views of Christians.
The survey, carried out in 2008, was part of a study commissioned by the International Social Survey Program, a 45-nation academic group that conducts polls and research about social ...
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