A church in the Syriac village of Kovankaya (Mehri in Kurdish), in Turkey’s southeastern Şırnak province, suffered an attack by unknown persons, pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency reported on Thursday.
Christian items and relics inside the cave church of Marta Shimoni were destroyed, including crosses, pictures of Jesus and rosaries, following an attack by a group of people, it said.
Kovankaya made headlines last year when Syriac-Chaldean couple Hürmüz and Şimoni Diril went missing in January. Şimoni Diril’s body was discovered two months later, dismembered, while her husband remains missing.
The attack on the church was discovered on May 11, when children from the Diril family visited the village to look after their parents’ crops and fruit trees. Earlier, on May 9, daughter Gülcan Diril and other villagers saw a group of eight people going towards the direction of the church.
“It was around noon,” Diril told Mezopotamya. “We don’t know if there were actual soldiers among them, but we saw a group of eight members of state security forces.”
The attack “happened after the security personnel came. Until then, nobody else had come,” she said. “We suspect they were the ones who did this.”
The Diril family continues to search for their father Hürmüz using their own resources. The state-run search for the missing man has not been fruitful, and the case was not updated after his wife’s body was discovered. Meanwhile, Şimoni Diril’s autopsy report remains incomplete with large pieces of information missing, according to the Christian website Persecution.org.
There has been no investigation into authorities for possible neglect either, according to the website.
The village, the last Christian one left in the area, was evacuated twice to date, in 1989 and 1994 due to fighting between the Turkish army and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group designated terrorist by Turkey, the United States and the European Union that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey for four decades.
Once comprising a significant portion of the population in the east and southeast, Anatolian Christians, including Syriacs, Chaldeans and several other denominations, have dwindled in size, particularly following the events of 1915, when some 1.5 million Christians are believed to have lost their lives in what is often referred to as the Armenian Genocide. The majority of the survivors have since left Turkey.
Remzi Diril: “Saldırıyı anne ve babamızın kaçırılması üzerinden bir korkutma politikası olarak görüyoruz”
— Gazete Sabro (@gazetesabro) May 13, 2021
“As the fury was still raging, our church was emptied out and turned inside out,” she added. “There is an unfinished investigation and a murder that is still in the dark, and such an attack happens. This has no respect, empathy, tolerance, or most importantly, love.”
Gülcan Diril called on authorities to offer them better protection, as the family continues to search for their father in the area.
“Do we have to put the Christian faith, which they themselves recognise as one of the celestial ones, up for their assessment every time? Do we have to ask them what we consider to be sacred for ourselves?’’ she said.
Christians have been subject to increased rights violations in 2021, according to the Washington-based rights organisation International Christian Concern.
Congregations have been prevented from accessing churches, and several have been turned into mosques, ICC said, as crimes against Christians were not prosecuted appropriately.
“The rapid escalation of these violations within the past several weeks is very concerning, and they run parallel to comparable escalations in countries where Turkey has a military presence,” ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East Claire Evans said.
Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the pejorative “gavur” (infidel) to target his political opponents. The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was accused of participating in the plotting of a failed coup in 2016, while at least 65 Protestant clergymen were expelled from the country in the last two years.
The Turkish government seems to be discouraging the return of Christians who had left their ancestral lands in the majority-Kurdish-populated southeast of the country, according to religious freedom advocate Nadine Maenza.