Syriac political and humanitarian organizations call for Turkey to set monk Aho free


ZALIN (QAMISHLI), Syria – The Syria-based Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) condemns the sentencing of monk Sefer “Aho” Bileçen and says in a press statement that it sees the monk’s sentencing by a Turkish court as a continuation of the politics of oppression of the Syriac people in Turkey and especially of the remaining Syriacs in Mardin Province. It is in violation of the legal duty of the Turkish state to protect those left behind and prevent any encroachment on their freedoms, property, and their centers of worship.

The ADO calls on the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to stop practices that push peaceful civilians to be victims of the ongoing armed conflict between them. In its statement, the ADO points to the many tragedies that the Syriac people suffered during the 1990s. Kidnappings and unsolved murders contributed heavily to pushing the remaining Syriac people to emigrate from their historical homeland Tur Abdin. The ADO says this suffering is continuing today with the sentencing of monk Aho.

HASAKAH, Syria – Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of the Gozarto (Jazira) and Euphrates Maurice Amsih condemned the trial and jail sentence of the monk of his church. In a statement to satellite channel Suroyo TV, Archbishop Amsih said that this is an unfair trial against a man who has dedicated his life to God and peace, in service of humanity. The Archbishop asked the President of the Turkish Republic and the Turkish court to release monk Aho and let him return to his monastery in service of his people and church.

ANKAWA/ERBIL, Iraq – The Iraqi-based Syriac political party Bnay Bethnahrain calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately annul the verdict of the court in Mardin in the case against Syriac Orthodox monk Aho. In a press statement published on its website, the party states: “We in the Bnay Bethnahrain Party reject such police practices and we demand the relevant Turkish (political and judicial) authorities to release monk Aho and give him back his freedom. We urge the Turkish authorities to stop politicizing human values and concepts with illogical arguments. We also urge them to stop the manner of involving others in conflicts they have no interest in, merely based on suspicions or the wrong interpretation of events.”

STOCKHOLM – Aid organization A Demand for Action founder and journalist Nuri Kino published a probing and personal article on monk Aho’s sentence for “giving bread and water to people who visited his monastery.” Kino sees the unfair conviction as part of the centuries-long persecution of Syriacs:

“oppression and persecution as well as our parents’ dreams that one day we would have the opportunity to educate ourselves and perhaps even become equal citizens with the majority population in some country somewhere drove us to flee. Today, a remnant of 3,000 Assyrians / Syriacs live there… Every time we think that here in the diaspora, we can breathe a sigh of relief, that it has now become better, calmer and safer for those who have remained, new death blows emerge. The verdict against Father Aho is probably the worst of them.”

A Demand for Action’s Nuri Kino calls on the the EU, U.S., UN, Amnesty International and to carry out diplomatic pressure so that monk Aho, “the little humble, intellectual man who wishes everyone well”, will be set free.

AUGSBURG, Germany – The Germany-based left-wing People’s Council of Syriacs in Europe (Süryani Halk Meclisleri) says it will organize a protest march in Augsburg for justice for and in solidarity with monk Aho. On its Facebook page, the People’s Council of Syriacs in Europe expresses its full solidarity with monk Aho and calls on Turkey to reverse all charges and sentencing. It says that the allegations against monk Aho were to a large extent based on statements of a key witness and former PKK fighter, who hoped that his testimony would reduce his own sentence.

The People’s Council of Syriacs in Europe sees monk Aho’s trial and sentencing in a long series of political trials in which “the fascist Turkish state criminalizes and terrorizes politically and religiously active Syriacs with fabricated allegations”. The trial against Syriac Orthodox priest Yusuf Akbulut of Omid (Diyarbakir) on charges of publicly addressing the Sayfo Genocide of 1915, the removal from office of Februniye Akyol, Syriac deputy mayor of Mardin, in 2016, the disappearance of the Diril couple in 2020, and the murder of Shmuni Diril are exemplary of this political criminalization by the ruling Turkish parties. The Diril case remains unsolved, under-investigated, and shrouded in secrecy.

The People’s Council of Syriacs in Europe too draws parallels with the 45 Syriacs kidnapped and murdered in Midyat and associated villages between 1987 and 1998. “The real terrorism is the fascist Turkish state with crimes against humanity against the Syriac people like the 500,000 martyrs of Sayfo Genocide of 1915.” The ongoing and unlawful expropriation of Syriac real estate, churches, and historical heritage in southeastern Turkey embodies the repressive Turkish state mentality, it says. Examples are the expropriation in 2008 by a Turkish court of lands belonging to the Mor Gabriel monastery (est. 397), and the flooding in 2020 of Hasankeyf, one of the oldest settlements known to mankind. It destroyed the 12,000 year-old city-fortress.