European Syriac Union launches campaign to revive Syriac language and schools in Tur Abdin

BRUSSELS / TUR ABDIN – The Brussels-based non-governmental organization European Syriac Union (ESU) has launched a fundraising campaign in support of Syriac schools in their ancient homeland of Tur Abdin, southeast Turkey. On its social media pages, ESU states that the goal of the fundraising campaign is to support the schools and students with advanced school materials and higher educational opportunities for pupils and teachers of the Syriac language.

In the campaign, ESU cooperates with local Syriac teachers on the ground in the few remaining majority-Syriac villages of Tur Abdin, or “Mountain of the Servants of God” in Syriac. In a statement to our news desk, ESU Co-Chair Tony Vergili stated that that ESU works closely with locals and “in our cooperation with the local teachers in our Syriac schools in Tur Abdin, we will determine the schools’ situation and needs and support accordingly.” 

ESU acts as European diplomatic bridge and advocate for the Syriac people in the diaspora and Middle Eastern homelands. ESU e.g. ,annually submits a country report on Turkey to the European Commission. It has recently petitioned for the unjust sentencing of Syriac monk Aho, and its members held Sayfo commemorations all over Europe on June 15.


The remaining Syriac villages in Tur Abdin are the last bastions in their ancient homeland of Tur Abdin. After the Sayfo Genocide of 1915, the last two Syriac schools in Omid (Diyarbakir) and Merde (Mardin) were closed in 1928.

According to Syriac Member of Turkish Parliament for Merde (Mardin) Tuma Çelik, the basic rights of the Syriac people were consciously and consistently disregarded when it comes to worship and education. In a statement in Turkish parliament Çelik claimed Syriacs were not allowed to open schools and churches for decades (although the Turkish government allowed the Syriac Orthodox Church in Istanbul to open a kindergarten in 2014);

“The main rights guaranteed by the Treaty of Lausanne are the rights to worship and the right to education. The Treaty explicitly provides and guarantees the right for non-Muslims to education and worship provided by the state.”

“However, the Syriacs’ right to education was taken away and schools were not allowed to be opened. The right to education is the foundation for development and survival of a language and culture. As Syriacs in Turkey were not allowed to receive education in their mother tongue, the Syriac language is in danger of extinction. It was not allowed a place in the public domain and in areas where the Syriac population is dense. This is in violation of Lausanne. In Turkey, there is still no Syriac school at the basic education level.”

Scholar Susanne Güsten confirms the above. In the in-depth report “A Farewell to Tur Abdin,” she writes;

“There were many pressures that continued to drive Syriacs out of Tur Abdin throughout the 20th century. Among them were the Turkification policies of the Turkish Republic, under which their villages and families were renamed in Turkish, their language was suppressed, their freedom of religion curtailed, and their identity denied.”

“Unlike Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, the Syriacs have never been recognized by the Turkish state as a non-Muslim minority under the Treaty of Lausanne. As a result, they were not granted even the limited minority rights accorded to those groups, such as schools and the right to safeguard their language and culture. The reason for this remains the subject of debate, but it does not change the fact that it constitutes a clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the treaty by Turkey.”

The Syriac schools are not official state schools but the majority are church and village schools. They have no official status and are not funded or supported by the Turkish state. If the endangered Syriac language is not preserved and revived, Syriacs will face assimilation in Turkey. This is already the case in Istanbul where the majority of the approximately twenty thousand Syriacs no longer speak the Syriac language.