Turkey and the Sanctities of its Society

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

By Suphi Aksoy

As humanity evolved in thought and society, it produced values and norms, formed its own laws and determined the sanctities in which it believes. As a result, different religions, beliefs, and cultures emerged in different parts of the world. Temples and places of worship were established to express these beliefs in physical acts and rituals, and laws were passed to form order and structure.

Although there are some underlying similarities between all religious beliefs and sects in the world, religions and beliefs that have emerged in the same region share more common characteristics. For example, where the monotheistic Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions emerged within the same geography and Semitic communities, they have many similar sacred values, rules, and rites.

In the Middle East, the birthplace of these three religions and other ancient beliefs, tombs are sacred in Yezidism, Zoroastrianism and Sabianism. The dead are respected. Places of worship, synagogues, churches, mosques, Alevite Cem Evi’s, and Evliya memorials are considered sanctuary places of God. In addition, the holy books of different religions and beliefs are accepted as the words of God and guiding principles for those communities. In the religious domain, and so in related social life, the list of sacred values and norms is long. From these written and orally transmitted sacred values and norms, legal values were adopted for communal life and every individual sees himself obliged to obey the laws of these sacred values.

When the first human groups emerged and entered into communal life, it was the difficulties of (overcoming) natural conditions that kept them together. Forced by primitive savage conditions, a consciousness of coexistence was born, and strong ties developed among the individuals of those first human groups. This brought forth symbols that sustained communal living and kept the evolving community together. Religious leaders emerged as representatives of communal beliefs. They became valued and prominent persons, divine figures with immunity. Likewise, political and military leaders who protected their community from external threats, attacks, and disasters were listened to, and a strong sense of loyalty developed to them.

Tribes, peoples and nations have put in much effort and worked hard to develop and maintain their culture and civilization. Today, all the societies’ politicians, scientists, state administrators, and all adult members know that peoples have values that are sacred and must be respected. Human rights and freedoms have been guaranteed in universal documents, and violations criminalized.

However, individuals and organizations with primitive feelings of revenge and ethnic and religious racism, barbarically attack the sacred values of humanity and the peoples all over the world. They are out to destroy civilizations, historical cultural and sacred artifacts, architectural monuments, and our common heritage.

In the Middle East, the brutal ISIS organization and other similar jihadist organizations caused great destruction and trauma with their attacks on Christians and their churches, on Yezidis and their holy gathering places, on the Alevis and Shiites and their sacred graves. They destroyed Buddha statues, Akkadian-Babylonian-Assyrian historical artifacts, and the sacred places of many other communities.

Such attacks on sacred places and values, acts of destruction, continue today also in Turkey. And they have continued in different forms until the present day since the latter days of the Ottoman Empire.

Ever since the Christian peoples were used as pretext and designated cause for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis was developed. From the 1840s, attacks occurred against the Syriac people (Assyrians-Chaldeans-Arameans), Yezidis and Alevis, human values were disregarded and sacred places destroyed. A distressing policy was implemented by the Ottoman Empire and its collaborators against the dignity of Christian and non-Turkish peoples.

It is no coincidence that the millions of people massacred in 1915 have no graves, not even a symbolic cemetery. Every single part of current Turkish territory has a red stain in its history, a massacre. Not one single memorial that symbolizes this reality was allowed, because past events and tragedies needed to be buried in history and, knowingly and willingly, erased from collective memory. Such a mindset, such a mentality, one that has no verbal and physical restraints and hesitations whatsoever to attack the sacred places and values of peoples and religions, poses a real danger to everyone.

Unfortunately, some of the crimes committed in the past, are repeated today inside and outside Turkey and on behalf of the state. The Turkish people and the international community should take it on them as their duty to stop these anti-democratic politics because desecrating non-Muslim tombs, destroying cemeteries, religious sites, and historical monuments, attacking non-Muslim women, attacking the rights to protection, freedom of expression, and sending the bones of dead people to parents by mail, are great and shameful crimes, stains on human dignity.

Everyone must be made aware that those who attack and destroy the sacred places and values of the peoples in Turkey put the Turkish people in a guilty situation before humanity. It is therefore of great importance that the peoples in Turkey respect each other’s sacred places and values. And that everyone must commit and struggle to build a peaceful life of coexistence.