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Demonstrations to Save Mor Gabriel

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  • drthomas_joseph
    Demonstrations to Save Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel By Geries Othman 1/27/2009 Asia News (www.asianews.it/) Muslim leaders are trying to destroy the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 27, 2009
      Demonstrations to Save Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel
      By Geries Othman

      Asia News (www.asianews.it/)

      Muslim leaders are trying to destroy the Syriac orthodox monastery
      and have sued for alleged proselytism.

      ANKARA (AsiaNews) - Demonstrations are being held in many European
      countries to save the monastery of Mor Gabriel, a spiritual center
      for the Syriac Orthodox community in Turkey.

      Founded in 397, it is the oldest functioning Christian monastery in
      the world. It is located on the plateau of Tur Abdin, "The Mountain
      of the Servants of God," on the Turkish border with Iraq. The see of
      the metropolitan archbishop of Tur Abdin, Mor Timotheus Samuel
      Aktas, with its three monks, 14 nuns, and 35 young people who live
      and study there, it is a religious and cultural point of reference
      for all Syriac Orthodox Christians, who still preserve ancient
      Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Every year it welcomes more than ten
      thousand tourists and pilgrims, many of them Syriacs of the diaspora
      in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden.

      Now, however, the future of the monastery and the Christian minority
      is threatened by a series of lawsuits against the monks and the
      prestigious religious institution. In August of 2008, the leaders of
      three Muslim villages around the monastery accused the community of
      proselytism, for having students to whom they can hand down the
      Christian faith and the Aramaic language. Their case has not yet
      been accepted by the Turkish court. But the village leaders are also
      asking that the monastery's land be appropriated and divided among
      the villages; that a wall be knocked down that was built during the
      1990's (when the monastery was on the front of the conflict between
      the Turkish army and the Kurdish communist party (PKK)). According
      to the Muslim leaders, there used to be a mosque on the land where
      the monastery was built. "The accusation is absurd," says David
      Gelen, leader of the Aramaic Foundation, "the monastery dates from
      397 A.D., about 200 years before the prophet Mohammed and the
      construction of any mosque whatsoever. And yet the court has
      considered hearing the case."

      Gelen says that he thinks a "campaign of intimidation" is underway
      against the religious of the monastery. "Bishop, monks, and nuns,"
      Gelen continues, "are always threatened in the most direct way
      possible by the inhabitants of the village, and they do not dare
      present themselves at trial or defend themselves in some way. So for
      some time, the monks and nuns have not had the courage to leave the
      confines of the property."

      "In Turkey," Gelen explains, "freedom of religious expression is
      guaranteed by the constitution; but those who are not recognized as
      a minority do not exist, in practical terms. Now the Syriacs, unlike
      the Greeks and Armenians, are not recognized as a religious
      minority, although they have been living there for millennia. The
      purpose of the threats and the lawsuit seems to be to repress this
      minority and expel it from Turkey, as if it were a foreign

      The Syriac community has high hopes in the European Union, which on
      February 11 is supposed to address together with the Turkish
      government the question of religious freedom and human rights for
      the non-Muslim minorities present in the country. "We hope not only
      that our rights will be recognized," David Gelen says, "but we are
      convinced that for the Turkish state, the time has come to
      recognize, accept, and protect the cultural multiplicity of the
      country, instead of fighting it. Turkey must decide whether it wants
      to preserve a 1,600-year-old culture, or annihilate the last remains
      of a non-Muslim tradition. What is at stake is the multiculturalism
      that has always characterized this nation, since the time of the
      Ottoman Empire."

      Since 1923, when the Turkish state was created, the Syriac Orthodox
      have been dispersed in four countries: Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran.
      Yasar Ravi, president of the Syriac Orthodox community of Antioch,
      notes that the Treaty of Lausanne guaranteed certain essential
      freedoms for this minority, but "things have gone differently."

      Since that time, there has been a constant exodus of the community
      toward central and northern Europe, especially Germany (where there
      are 20,000 Syriacs) and Sweden (70-80,000). In the middle of the
      1960's, there were still about 130,000 of them in Tur Abdin; today
      there are just 3,000.

      "We have no territory, we are scattered throughout the world, but we
      are very united thanks to our linguistic, social, and cultural
      identity," Yasar Ravi continues. "As history teaches us, religion
      has always had a dominant role in civilization. Ours is without
      doubt a very religious people, and we are proud of speaking the
      language of Jesus: the language that, in terms of its diffusion, was
      essentially the English of the Middle East."

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