Arameans want prime minister to mediate over Mor Gabriel

May 12, 2009, Tuesday/ 16:43:00
Arameans have appealed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 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 Erdoğan 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, Çandarlı, Yayvantepe and Eğlence, 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 Erdoğan, 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 Erdoğan’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.”

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