TUR ABDIN: Syriac woman resists linguistic and cultural assimilation in one of the last all-Syriac stronghold villages

“We learned Kurdish from living among the Kurds. We live together, but the Kurds did not learn our language. We also learn Turkish in school. Our children who emigrate to Europe also speak German, but nobody knows our language."

MIDIN, TUR ABDIN, southeast Turkey – Seyde Doğanküreç (72) lives in the vibrant all-Syriac village of Mıdın, Şırnak Province. Together with some 50 Syriac village families, she remains valiant in resisting assimilation and emigration; “By educating and raising our children in their own language and culture, we keep our Syriac language and culture alive,” she told Jin News

Mıdın is one of the last Syriac strongholds in the ancient Syriac homeland of Tur Abdin. The remaining all-Syriac and continuously inhabited villages in Tur Abdin can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

As one of the ancient peoples in Mesopotamia, the Syriac people were subjected to genocide, sustained oppression, and assimilation policies of status-quo regimes and rulers. The estimates of Syriacs massacred in the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 in Ottoman Turkey vary from hundred to three hundred thousand. Subsequent social pressures from surrounding Kurdish villages and Turkish state policies of denial and assimilation caused more killings, deportations, and forced emigration of Syriacs from Tur Abdin. Today, assimilation in the diaspora is a major existential threat for the survival of the Syriac people.

The Syriacs who stayed in Tur Abdin after the Sayfo Genocide, continued their efforts to keep their culture and language alive. The Syriac village of Mıdın (Turkish: Öğündük), Idil district of Şırnak, is one of the villages which was able to remain all-Syriac and preserve its language, Christian customs, and culture. Like the other villagers, Seyde Doğanküreç lives from farming and animal husbandry. She tells about past and present life in the village.

‘The villages that stole our property are now village guards’

Seyde Doğanküreç is one of the hundreds of thousands of Syriacs who, directly or indirectly, personally suffered greatly from the Sayfo Genocide and its aftermath. She did not live through the ‘Ferman’ – the Ottoman imperial edict for the elimination of the Christians from Ottoman Turkey – but the effects of the ‘Ferman’ continue.

In her interview with Jinnews, she says her father was murdered 50 years ago. Five of her nine children emigrated abroad because of social pressures:

“Our elders migrated from Mıdın to Araban village. They killed my grandfather there. After living in Araban for 7 years, we returned to Mıdın. They stoned my father to death. We were not told much about the Ferman. Our elders picked up their lives, but Muslims attacked and killed us. Theft started after the Ferman. Our goods and properties were taken by force, our livestock was stolen.”

“This only stopped gradually over time. The surrounding villages also stole our goods because of hunger. All these villages are now village guards [ed. affiliated with the Turkish military and intelligence services]. Along with the theft, they killed a few of our Syriac people. We currently don’t experience theft and killings like before.”

‘We speak other languages, ​​but nobody knows our language’

Seyde Doğanküreç draws attention to the importance of language as a part of the Syriac culture. They speak with their children in their mother tongue:

“We learned Kurdish from living among the Kurds. We live together, but the Kurds did not learn our language. We also learn Turkish in school. Our children who emigrate to Europe also speak German, but nobody knows our language.”

“We have been subjected to great pressures and most of our children had to emigrate to Europe due to these social pressures. Five of my children have been living in Germany for over 20 years. We raise our children with their own language and culture. In this way, we keep our language and culture alive.”

‘We have been in this village for over 100 years’

Seyde Doğanküreç tells about the Christian way of live and rituals they observe in Mıdın. She prays 5 times a day:

“We go to church and church schools and worship. We go to church twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. On Sunday’s, we all go to church collectively for mass.”

“Relationships in our village are good and friendly. Only Syriacs live in this village. Shepherds come only at regular intervals. We have 50 Syriac families in our village. Since the Sayfo Genocide, we have been living in this village for over 100 years”.

When asked whether Syriacs are now being treated differently than during the genocide period, Seyde Doğanküreç says: “We are no longer afraid.”

Disclaimer: translated from the original Turkish. You can find the Turkish article at Gazete Sabro here.