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For the first time ever, ethnic Assyrians gather in Turkey to celebrate New Year

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  • Thomas P
    [Moderator] The news is approved for posting as it appeared in the source and uses the disputed label Assyrians to describe Syriac Orthodox Christians.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 12, 2005
      [Moderator] The news is approved for posting as it appeared in the source and uses the disputed label "Assyrians" to describe Syriac Orthodox Christians.

      Taipei Times, April 5, 2005

      For the first time ever, ethnic Assyrians gather in Turkey to
      celebrate New Year

      GOOD TIMING: Assyrians gathered celebrate their holiday after the
      Turkish government OK'd the party as it seeks to show the EU its
      tolerance of ethnic groups

      Tuesday, Apr 05, 2005,Page 6

      A windswept hilltop here in southeastern Anatolia has become the site
      for a reunion that once would have been unthinkable, as thousands of
      Assyrians from across the region have converged to openly celebrate
      their New Year in Turkey for the first time.

      Like many other expressions of minority ethnic identity, the Assyrian
      New Year, or Akito, had been seen by Turkey as a threat. But this
      year, the government, with an eye toward helping its bid to join the
      EU, has officially allowed the celebration by the Assyrians, members
      of a Christian ethnic group that traces its roots to ancient Mesopotamia.

      Yusuf Begtas, one of the celebration's organizers, said that because
      most of Turkey's tiny Assyrian population -- about 6,000 people in all
      -- lives in a heavily Kurdish region that has seen frequent clashes
      between the Turkish government and Kurdish militias, strong assertions
      of Assyrian ethnicity have long been politically impossible. But
      Turkey's political culture has been changing rapidly.

      "Turkey is showing itself to the EU," Begtas said. "When we asked the
      authorities for permission to celebrate this year, we knew it wouldn't
      be possible for them to deny us now. Turkey has to show the EU that it
      is making democratic changes."

      The festivities on Friday were the culmination of a celebration that
      started on March 21, the first day of the Assyrian New Year. Behind
      Begtas, on a raised stage near the wall of the Mar Aphrem monastery, a
      balding baritone sang in Syriac, the Assyrians' language, a Semitic
      tongue similar to Aramaic.

      He was followed by a group of girls wearing mauve satin folk costumes,
      dancing in lines with their arms linked. They were cheered on by an
      audience of about 5,000, including large groups of visiting ethnic
      Assyrians from Europe, Syria and Iraq.

      Iraq, where Akito is celebrated openly, has the world's largest
      population of Assyrians, about a million. Most of Turkey's Assyrians
      were killed or driven away during the Armenian massacres early in the
      last century, and the bullet scars on some of Midyat's almost
      medieval-looking sandstone buildings still bear witness to those times.

      In recent years, Assyrians have suffered quieter forms of persecution
      and discrimination. Since the 1980s, under those pressures, thousands
      of Assyrians have emigrated abroad. Kurds, with whom Assyrians have
      long had a tense relationship, are now the majority in Midyat, which
      until just a generation ago was 75 percent Assyrian.

      Haluk Akinci, the regional governor of Nusaybin, a district next to
      Midyat, suggested that the Turkish government might see allowing the
      New Year celebration as a partial atonement for past persecutions.

      "In the past, freedoms for minorities were not as great as they are
      now," he said, though he noted that in years past, private Assyrian
      New Year celebrations had generally been ignored by the authorities.
      "The Turkish government now repents that they let so many of these
      people leave the country."
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