Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Father John Flynn, LC

12/23/2009 (5 years ago)

Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)

The Syriacs are an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey and were one of the first groups of people to accept Christianity.

The Syriacs are an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey and were one of the first groups of people to accept Christianity.

Highlights

By Father John Flynn, LC

Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)

12/23/2009 (5 years ago)

Published in Middle East


ROME (Zenit.org) - It's been another difficult year for Christians in Turkey and it is finishing just as it began, with problems. Early in December, three Muslims entered the Meryem Ana Church, a Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir, and confronted the Reverend Yusuf Akbulut, according to a Dec. 15 report by Compass Direct News, an agency specializing in reporting on religious persecution.

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.

Fleeing

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.

Accusations

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 and political issues.

Overview

Forum 18, a Norwegian-based human rights group, published on Nov. 27 a survey of religious freedom in Turkey. The group takes its name from Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Overall, the study concluded: "that the country continues to see serious violations of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief."

Turkey has not given recognition to religious communities in their own right as independent communities with full legal status -- such as the right to own places of worship and the legal protection religious communities normally have in states under the rule of law, according to Forum 18.

Moreover, the survey observed that Christians have been the object of a series of violent attacks and murders in recent years.

The government, the study explained, remains committed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's "secularism." This involves not only state control of Islam, but also restrictions on the ability of non-Muslims and Muslims outside state control to exercise freedom of religion or belief.

Communities as diverse as Alevi Muslims, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Protestants, and the Syrian Orthodox Church have seen no significant progress in resolving property problems, the study added.

In fact, even recognized religious communities cannot themselves own properties such as places of worship.

It is virtually impossible to find people from non-Muslim backgrounds in high-level civil servant positions and impossible in senior ranks in the military, the study continued.

Intolerance

Forum 18 listed a number of deadly attacks on Christians in recent years: The murder of Father Andrea Santoro, a Catholic priest in 2006; the killing of two ethnic Turkish Protestants, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske in Malatya in 2007. Then, in July 2009 a Catholic German businessman engaged to an ethnic Turk, Gregor Kerkeling, was murdered by a mentally disturbed young man for being a Christian.

Among the causes of this intolerance the study cited the habitual disinformation and defamation against Christians, both in public discourse as well as in the media. As well, intolerance is actively promoted within the school curriculum.

The report concluded by saying that the serious problems with the lack of religious freedom in Turkey casts serious doubts about whether the country is really committed to universal human rights for all.

Of course Turkey is not alone in limiting religious freedom. On Wednesday a report titled: "Global Restrictions on Religion," was published by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life.

If found that 64 nations -- about one-third of the countries in the world -- have high or very high restrictions on religion. Moreover, because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, nearly 70% of the world's 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities. A fact worth meditating on, and praying about, as we celebrate the birth of the child Jesus.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Middle East

Twisted ISIS video shows militants executed by men in notorious orange jumpsuits Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Islamic State militants were captured and slaughtered on camera by a rebel group in Syria. The members of the rebel group were clad in orange jumpsuits, usually worn by ISIS prisoners and led 13 shackled jihadis to their deaths. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic ... continue reading


GRISLY FIRST: Islamic State beheads women for acts of 'sorcery' in Syria Watch

Image of The Islamic State has previously stoned women to death on allegations of adultery. The Observatory says the latest instances were the first time it was aware of the group beheading women.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It was a heinous new low for the terror group Islamic State. There are reports from Syria that the jihadists have now beheaded two women for acts of what they describe as "sorcery." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - These heinous acts are reportedly the first ... continue reading


Amazing discovery of ancient Roman soldier's footprints found in Israel Watch

Image of

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The ancient, fortified city of Hippos-Sussita in Israel, located in the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, has surprised archeologists with a new addition to their host of history-defining discoveries. Director Michael Eisenberg, the excavation's director announced ... continue reading


ISIS shocks by beheading women for the first time ever Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

ISIS is known all over the world for their radical cruelty and use of rapid executions. Now, the jihadi militants have carried out yet another act of brutality, beheading two women in Syria, who they accused of "sorcery," according to activist reports. MUNTINLUPA, ... continue reading


HISTORIC - Vatican signs treaty with 'State of Palestine' in hopes of promoting peace Watch

Image of Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher along with Palestinian counterpart, Riad al-Malki, signed a peace treaty recognizing the

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Vatican Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher along with Palestinian counterpart, Riad al-Malki, signed a peace treaty recognizing the "State of Palestine." Signed in a ceremony in the Vatican, the goal is that the recognition will promote peace with Israel - as well ... continue reading


Women, children among the 120 civilians killed in Islamic State takeover of Kobane Watch

Image of The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London said many of the dead were in their homes killed by rocket attacks. Others were struck down by sharp shooters as they tried to run away.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Re-entering the Syrian city of Kobane, long held up as a symbol of Kurdish resistance, Islamic State indiscriminately shot and killed dozens of women and children in a 24-hour period. The death toll hovers around 120, but that number may rise. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


Is there an AIDs epidemic in Syria? Islamic State fighter donated infected blood which has spread to several other fighters Watch

Image of An Indonesian man, infected with AIDs, donated blood to the Islamic State, and was executed for it.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

An Indonesian Islamic State fighter who was infected with AIDs has been executed by the Islamic State after he was accused of knowingly passing on the disease through blood donations. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The currently unknown Indonesian man ... continue reading


Two men brutally flogged by Islamic State for breaking Ramadan rules Watch

Image of The two men are shown kneeling in front of a group of ISIS commanders. One of the commanders is seen carrying a large whip.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Two men accused of breaking the fast during Ramadan are shown being brutally flogged by Islamic State soldiers in a new series of shocking photographs. LOS ANGELES, Ca (Catholic Online) - As released by the Islamic State Information Office of the State of the ... continue reading


Positive 'happy' Syrian social media campaign #SummerInSyria gathers shocking, heartbreaking images of dead children instead Watch

Image of Syria has been hit hard with a civil war over the last four years.

By Linky C. (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A Summer in Syria online campaign, using the hashtag #SummerInSyria was meant to gather positive images of experiences in the country, despite four years of gruesome civil war. However, instead of gathering positive feedback from social media users, the #SummerInSyria ... continue reading


Kurdish militia sits north of Islamic State capital, awaiting Syrian offensive Watch

Image of So far the only group that has proved capable at defeating the Islamic State has been the Kurdish militias of Iraq and Syria.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While Kurdish militia units have had some recent success in their fight for survival against the Islamic State in northern Syria, a leader with the militia says they have no intention of attacking the Islamic State's capital of Raqqa, and such an offensive should ... continue reading


All Middle East News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 2:19-22
19 So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 117:1, 2
1 Alleluia! Praise Yahweh, all nations, extol him, ... Read More

Gospel, John 20:24-29
24 Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 3rd, 2015 Image

St. Thomas
July 3: St. Thomas was a Jew, called to be one of the twelve Apostles. ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter