Noose is tightening around Christians in Turkey

The ancient Syrian Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel has been subjected to constant and unfair legal attacks since 2008.

Jul 07, 2017

By Samuel Lieven
The ancient Syrian Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel has been subjected to constant and unfair legal attacks since 2008. It has now fallen under the control of the all-powerful Diyanet, which governs Islamic Turkey (99.8 per cent of the population).

The Mor Gabriel Monastery was founded in 397 by the ascetic Mor Shmu’el (Samuel) on the Tur Abdin plateau, “the mountain of the servants of God”, in southeastern Turkey.

This sacred site of Eastern Christianity is one of the 50 churches and monasteries that have been seized by the Diyanet, according to Kuryakos Ergün, the Chairman of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation.

“We are in the process of identifying the properties that have already been seized,” Ergün told the Turkish-Armenian newspaper, Argos. “We have so far filed lawsuits with regard to twenty property titles, and we’re going to do the same for thirty more.”

This legal struggle goes back to 2008. In that year, an updating of the land registry requalified 250 hectares within the Monastery’s boundaries as “forests”, on the grounds that they were not “cultivated”.

What followed was a long series of lawsuits, each one lost because of false accusations: Christian proselytism, the supposed existence of a mosque under the monastery’s foundations — even though it was built well before the advent of Islam.

Now, it’s the administrative change of Mardin Province to a “metropolitan municipality” that is serving as the excuse for the seizing of property. The authorities set up a “Committee of Liquidation” in order to redistribute any property that no longer has a legal entity.

Initially transferred to the Treasury, the 50 churches and monasteries are now under the control of the Presidency of Religious Affairs.

Harshness of the Islamic-Conservative authorities

These developments are occurring in the context of an increasing hardening of the policies of the Islamic-Conservative President Erdogan and his AKP party, in power since 2002.

A law passed in 2002 supposedly opened the way for the recovery of about a hundred properties seized from minorities since the creation of modern Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. This should have allowed the restitution of goods and properties confiscated by the State from non-Muslim minority foundations.

Since then, however, this has come to a dead end. Ever-decreasing Christian communities are increasingly oppressed by the State and by a society that is being re-Islamized.

In its 15 years in power, the AKP has thus ground away at the secular principles that were defended tooth and nail by the Kemalists, such as the prohibition of the veil in universities and government offices.

This year, just before Easter, the Turkish President even planned to pray with members of his Party and Islamic clerics at Saint-Sophia. This great Christian Basilica, built in 537, became a mosque under the Ottoman Empire’s rule. It was transformed into a museum by Ataturk in 1935.

Now, it is a symbol that is increasingly coveted by Erdogan’s Islamist government.

Most Christians in Turkey (0.1 per cent of the population) do not have any legal status. They can only battle the courts to try to keep or to recover property confiscated from them by the State. --La Croix (international. la-croix.com)

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