Syriac Member of Turkish Parliament Tuma Çelik demands investigations into unsolved murders of Syriacs in Turkey

The 1990s in Turkey were the scene of numerous unsolved murders of Suryoye (Syriacs) in Tur Abdin in the country’s southeast. Dozenss of such unsolved murders of Suryoye still await investigation and prosecution.

ANKARA / MARDIN — Turkish society in the 1980s and 1990s was highly polarized and militarized. The Turkish state and its powerful army were in an internal armed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partîya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK) and had, under the guise of the conflict, declared a large part of the country’s southeast an OHAL — Olağanüstü Hâl Bölge Valiliği or “Region in State of Emergency”. Under the declared state of emergency, the state and military utilized highly oppressive security methods against opposition movements, different religious communities, and ethnic peoples in general, predominantly, but by no means exclusively, in the southeast.

As a consequence of the strategy of total war against the PKK adopted by the Turkish state, thousands of Syriac, Kurdish, and other villages throughout the country’s southeast were forcibly evacuated. Gross human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detainments were commonplace. Corruption was rampant. The use of death squads and extrajudicial killings, the so-called “Faili Meçhul”, or “unsolved murders”, were alleged common practice. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from villages their ancestors had populated for centuries, and thousands of innocent people were killed in a conflict that was not theirs.

In the ultra-nationalistic and intimidating atmosphere of the 1980s and 1990s, the line between state and organized crime organizations seemed to blur even further. The assumed connections between state and organized crime continue to this day under the current Justice and Development Party (dalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP) government. Former crime boss Sedat Peker has recently launched a series of accusations against many high-ranking Turkish politicians, ministers, and businesspeople. In his seventh YouTube video, Peker implicates government officials in the Faili Meçhul murders.

In Turkey’s southeastern region of Tur Abdin, dozens of these unsolved murders of Syriacs await police investigation and judicial prosecution. Some 45 Suryoye were murdered between 1987 and 1998. Independent Syriac Member of Turkish Parliament for Mardin Tuma Çelik has asked parliamentary questions to Turkey’s Justice Minister. Çelik links the mass emigration in the 1980s and 1990s of Syriacs from Tur Abdin to Europe directly with the Faili Meçhul murders and the use of displacement methods by the state in the armed conflict at that time:

“Because of the conflicts in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly displaced, villages were burned down and evacuated. In this process, the Süryani (Syriacs), one of the ancient peoples of the region, were pushed into forced emigration to European countries. The violent disappearance of some 50 Syriacs started in the late 1980’s and lasted well into to the 1990’s.

These unsolved murders and disappearances of Syriacs are a reality not widely known. The Faili Meçhul and human rights violations have brought about the forced emigration of Syriacs.”

Çelik stated that there were medical doctors, business owners, mayors, and even the elderly among the Suryoye who were murdered or disappeared in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The unsolved murders took place in Mardin, Şırnak and Hakkari, which had a dense population of Syriacs,” he said. “The murders of Tumas Behnam, Simon Konutgan, Dr. Eduard Tanrıverdi, former Mayor of İdil Şükrü Tutuş, and Mikail Bayro are only some of these unsolved murders.”

He continued, “A most recent case is the one of Hurmüz Diril whose fate and whereabouts are unknown since January 10, 2020.”

Mardin MP Tuma Çelik asked the following parliamentary questions to the Turkish Justice Minister, the first of their kind about Suryoye Faili Meçhul cases in Turkish parliament:

  • Is there any work underway or an investigation into the unsolved murders that have been taking place during the 1990s?
  • How many court cases into the unsolved murders have been filed with or transferred to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)? Has any retrial been started in the cases where the ECtHR issued a ruling that there were human rights violations involved?
  • What is the status of the file opened in the unsolved murder case of İdil mayor Şükrü Tutuş?
  • What is the status of the file opened in the unsolved murder case of businessman Yakup Tepe?
  • What is the status of the file opened in the unsolved murder case of Dr. Eduard Tanrıverdi?


In 1987, there was still a strong Syriac presence in Tur Abdin. By 1998, this number was down to only a couple of thousand. Currently, there are around 3,000 Syriacs left in Tur Abdin.

Below is a list of the Suryoye murdered from 1987 to 1998:

1987 – Habib Ün (Midyat), Aho Erdinç (Arbo), Tumas Behnam (Derik), Bahho Hure (Derik)

1988 – Fehmi Yarar (Midyat)

1990 – Yakup Görgün (Midyat), Gevriye Bulut (Anhel), Sami Bulut (Anhel), Yusuf Aykıl (Arnas), Edibe Aykıl (Arnas), Melke Kahraman (Midyat), Şemun Ünal (Bnebil), Bahhe Akgül (Bnebil), Yusuf Sürer (Bnebil), Celil Büyükbaş (Bnebil)

1991 – Ishak Tahan (Midyat), Ferit Adil (Anhel), Işmuni Adil (Anhel), Mihayel Bayro (Idil)

1992 – Simon Konutgan (İdil), Fikri Akbulut (Midyat), Yakup Yonatan (Kızıltepe), Cırcıs Yüksel (Keleth)

1993 – Aydın (Anhel), Isa Koç (Anhel), Aziz Kalaycı (Anhel), Yusuf Özbakır (Anhel), Gevriye Durmaz (Anhel), Gorgis Savcı (Hah), Georgis Baydar (Idil), Hamdi Şimşek (Şırnak-Bespin (Görümlü)), Hikmet Şimşek (Şırnak-Bespin (Görümlü)), Hanna Aydın (Hah)

1994 – Yakup Mete (Midyat), Şükrü Tutuş (İdil), Aziz Çiftçi (Mardin), Eduard Tanrıverdi (Midyat)

1996 – Yusuf Dildar (Hakkari), Garip Marbel Taner (Hakkari), Milad Ishak Yalda (Hakkari), Viya Şoreş Iman (Hakkari), Imal Gevergis Hanna (Hakkari)

1997 – Iskender Aras (Doğançay), Rehane Aras (Doğançay)

1998 – Hanna Adikti (Bespin)