The hardline administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confiscated 50 properties from one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, the Syriac Orthodox Church, arguing that their ownership deeds had lapsed, Al-Monitor reports, citing church and Christian community leaders.
Among the “hundreds of thousands of square meters” in property seized by Muslim-majority Turkey are reportedly many ancient churches and monasteries.
Some of the church and Christian community leaders revealed that “several churches and monasteries that were handed over to the state Treasury have been given to the Department of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a powerful state institution that oversees Muslim houses of worship,” notes Al-Monitor.
“Our churches and monasteries are what root Syriacs in these lands; our existence relies on them. They are our history and what sustains our culture,” Kuryakos Ergun, the chairman of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, told the news outlet. “While the country should be protecting this heritage, we instead see our culture is at risk.”
The fifth century Mor Gabriel, one of the world’s oldest Christian monasteries still in operation, appealed, to no avail, to the Erdogan government to halt the confiscation.
In May, a government commission charged with liquidating the seized Christian assets officially rejected the Mor Gabriel’s appeal, notes Al-Monitor.
Erol Dora, a Syriac and one of a few Christian lawmakers in the Turkish Parliament, reportedly revealed that “last year, the [Turkish government’s] liquidation commission began transferring to state institutions assets whose status it had determined were no longer valid.”
“Among them were dozens of houses of worship, cemeteries and other properties used by the Syriac community for centuries that should have been turned over to Mor Gabriel,” added the Dora of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The Christian parliamentarian is reportedly trying to find a political solution to the Erdogan administration’s failure to respect the rights of Turkish minority groups.
“Turkey must adopt policies that protect citizens of different faiths. This has to be part of efforts to comply with modern democratic principles and rule of law,” said Dora.
Besides the recent incident involving the confiscation of property belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Turkish government has seized other Christian Churches in the past and declared them state property.
“Christians in Turkey are an endangered species,” wrote political scientist Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou and historian Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou, referring to the state of the minority group in Turkey under President Erdogan.
“Syriacs, sometimes called Assyrians, are heirs to a civilization in historical Mesopotamia that dates back as far as 3500 B.C., and many today still speak a dialect of Aramaic, the language of Christ,” explains Al-Monitor. “Most are Orthodox, but Syriacs belong to different Christian denominations.”
Anti-Christian sentiment has also reached some segments of the predominantly Muslim population in Turkey, fueling the persecution of Christians in the country, Christian Today (CT) reported in February, citing the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches.
Around Christmas and New Year’s in 2016, “churches faced threats of violence, and non-Muslim students with exemptions to religion classes were urged to convert to Islam instead. Another incident involved a Bible being labeled as terrorist material. One church in southern Turkey was shut down by the government for offering unauthorized Bible courses,” notes CT.