Demand that Turkey releases the monk, Stefan Löfven!

In 2018, two people came to the St Jacob of the Horn monastery and asked Father Aho for food. It later turned out that they belonged to the PKK. Father Aho has now been sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison. The time has come for the Swedish government to take urgent action to protect the few remaining Christians in Turkey, writes Aday Bethkinne, member of the Swedish Christian Democratic Party (Kristdemokraterna).

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

By Aday Bethkinne

On January 9, 2020, the Turkish military arrested Syriac Orthodox monk dayroyo Aho Sefer Bilecen of the St Jacob of the Horn monastery, as well as 2 Syriac village leaders in the Tur Abdin region in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities accused the monk of having links with, or aiding, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey.

The background to the arrest is an incident in 2018: 2 people came to the St Jacob of the Horn monastery and asked Father Aho for food. Later it turned out that these people belonged to the PKK. During his questioning, the monk said that his Christian belief and duty is to help all those in need and knock on the monastery’s door, without discrimination and without asking who they are. During the questioning, the monk proposed that the military stationed in the area, take security measures to prevent such incidents. But no security measures were put in place. After Father Aho was detained for 5 days in January 2020, he was released pending his trial.

On April 7, 2021, Father Aho was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in Turkish prison for a terrorism-related crime. His only sin was that he gave food to hungry people who asked for it.

Why would a monk who has left earthly life behind to serve God and moved from Istanbul to a dilapidated monastery high in the mountains of southeastern Turkey have anything to do with an outlawed organization? Monk Aho has worked diligently for years to restore the dilapidated monastery to its original condition. He has given hope to Syriacs in the area, and many have returned to their original villages thanks to his sacrifices.

It was similar events, accusations, and indictments that forced the majority of the Syriac indigenous population to flee their ancient homeland of Tur Abdin and Turkey 40 years ago. Today only 15 villages in the Turo d’Izlo area are fully Christian and still populated by their indigenous residents. In all of Tur Abdin there are only about 3,000 Christians left.

People from all over the world have expressed their dissatisfaction about what happened to monk Aho. Isn’t it time for Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Foreign Minister Ann Linde to get involved and side with the weak? Demand Turkey to release monk Aho and protect the few Christians who remain in the country.

Freedom for Father Aho Bilecen!

This article was originally published in Swedish by Dagens.se on 8 April 2021. The original can be found here.

Aday Bethkinne lives in Botkyrka, Sweden. He is member of the Swedish Christian Democratic Party Kristdemokraterna. You can follow him via Twitter.