Recent News on Mor Gabriel Monastery
- Christians urge Turkey to protect ancient monastery
A leading Syriac Christian group urged Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoðan on Monday to protect a fifth-century Christian monastery in eastern Turkey from local officials claiming land the monastery has owned for centuries.
The dispute over the boundaries of Mor Gabriel, one of the world's oldest functioning Christian monasteries, has raised concerns over freedom of religion and human rights for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and European Union aspirant.
The row began when Turkish government land officials redrew the boundaries around Mor Gabriel and the surrounding villages in 2008 to update a national land registry.
The monks say the new boundaries turn over to the villages large plots of monastery land and some as public forest.
A court ruling on the case, which has become a rallying cry for Christian church groups across Europe, has been postponed several times, the last time until May 22.
In the letter, the Syriac Universal Alliance, a leading Syriac group based in Sweden, asked Erdoðan to protect the rights of Syriacs in Turkey.
"We strongly believe that a united approach to Aramaic rights in Turkey will result in a number of benefits -- not only for the Aramaic people, but also for Turkey," it said.
Syriacs are one of the oldest communities in Turkey and still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. But they are not officially designated a minority in Turkey like the Greeks or Armenians, so have no special protection under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne's provisions for non-Muslim minorities.
Erdoðan's ruling AK Party government has said it has expanded the rights of minorities. But the EU and U.S. President Barack Obama, during a trip to Turkey in April, have urged Ankara to do more to promote religious freedom.
11 May 2009, Monday
Arameans want prime minister to mediate over Mor Gabriel
Today's Zaman: 12 May 2009, Tuesday
Arameans have appealed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan in a letter seeking his mediation in a land dispute between the Mor Gabriel Monastery and the surrounding villages that has already been heard in court.
The Arameans underlined that they are aware that Erdoðan wants a "friendly solution" and has instructed state officials to that end. However, state officials are not "in a hurry to resolve these matters or to push for a just solution," the letter states.
The conflict between the Arameans and three villages in the region started in 2008, when the Land Registry General Directorate redrew the boundaries of the land around Mor Gabriel and the surrounding villages. At the end of the re-demarcation, the directorate established that 244 out of the 1,227 hectares of land on which Mor Gabriel stands belong to the Treasury, while 285 hectares qualify as "woodland." The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation built walls around the land and the forested area years ago.
The three surrounding villages, Çandarlý, Yayvantepe and Eðlence, would like to see the monastery's five-kilometer wall brought down as villagers say their animals used to graze on that land. The village heads consequently applied to court, but observers say their action was manipulated by some to appear like a Muslim-Christian conflict. Neighboring villages have complained that the monks have engaged in "anti-Turkish activities" and alleged that they are illegally converting children to Christianity and that the Mor Gabriel Community Foundation settles wherever it chooses, without
having the requisite permits, and violates the Unity of Education Law. Villagers have also accused the monastery of taking land they need for cattle. The Aramean priests have also filed complaints against the villagers, saying that the monastery's vast lands have been their property for centuries and have been illegally appropriated by the villagers.
The Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA), a worldwide umbrella organization of national federations of Aramean people, in their letter to Erdoðan, indicated that they wanted him to mediate in the conflict. The SUA also asked the prime minister to "ensure that the decisions of the relevant Turkish authorities are reversed and relevant cases are resolved to the benefit of the Aramean people in order for the current public condemnation of Turkey to end."
The SUA added that they don't want this case to end up in the European Court of Justice, noting their other requests as follows: "Focus your attention on the large number [between 10-15 villages and growing] of towns and villages where the cadastral, forestry and Treasury systems will effectively take more land from the indigenous Aramean population; ensure through your public
statements that the Aramean people who wish to return to their ancestral lands have a guarantee that their property rights are protected by the Turkish government and all relevant government bodies."
The SUA also demanded Erdoðan's official recognition of the Aramean people under the Lausanne Treaty. The founding treaty of the republic in 1923 outlines the rights of the non-Muslim minorities of Turkey -- without indicating specific group names -- but, practically, these rights are applied only to the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities of Turkey, according to a recent report from the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV). The SUA, in their letter, pointed out that if Arameans were recognized in accordance with Lausanne Treaty, "their basic protection
and development in Turkish society, including the Aramaic language,
religious, cultural and property rights" would be ensured.
The letter stressed that the SUA wishes to cooperate with Turkish
authorities but "as long as the Mor Gabriel Monastery trial remains
unresolved, the SUA will keep advising its worldwide federations to continue to take action against this."
AYÞE KARABAT ANKARA