Religious communities under political pressure from government. Syriac community in Turkey faces many difficulties, says European Commission

BRUSSELS – In a formal response to questions of four Dutch Members of European Parliament on the court sentencing in Turkey of Syriac Orthodox monk Sefer (Aho) Bileçen, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell stated that the Syriac churches and community in Turkey face many difficulties. “Religious communities are under political pressure of the [Turkish] government,” adds the Social Democrat who is also Vice-President of the European Commission.

Monk Aho of the St Jacob of Nisibin Monastery, Tur Abdin, was sentenced to 25 months in prison on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization” after he had given provisions, something he does not deny, to alleged PKK members knocking on the door of his monastery in 2018. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) is a guerilla organization in armed conflict with the Turkish state since the 1980s over Kurdish rights. It is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its NATO-allies the U.S. and EU – but not e.g., by Russia.

In April of this year, MEPs Bert-Jan Ruissen (ECR, SGP), Peter van Dalen (EPP, CU), Annie Schreijer-Pierik and Ester de Lange (both EPP, CDA) asked Borrell, also European Peoples Party, whether (1) he considered the case of monk Aho another example of how Turkey violates human rights and oppresses the Christian Aramean [Syriac] minority? And (2) if so, whether the High Representative can call on the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against monk Aho and end this trial against him?

In his answer, Borrell stated that an EU-delegation has visited the monastery in April and that the European Commission continues to follow the case closely. He further writes that;

“Although the government has a legitimate right to combat terrorism, it must however ensure that the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed.”

“Moreover, religious communities are under political pressure of the government.”

“As emphasized in the last annual report of the European Commission on Turkey, minorities’ rights must be better protected and the recommendations on the status of minorities in Turkey of the Commission in Venice should still be implemented.”

According to Borrell in his answer, the ongoing war in Syria and the coronavirus epidemic aggravated problems for the Syriac community. Borrell does not specify how the war in Syria has aggravated the Syriacs’ already difficult situation, but one plausible reason could be that Syriac organizations are affiliated with the Kurdish-led Democratic Autonomous Administration. A thorn in the side of Turkey. The Democratic Autonomous Administration is just across the border of the traditional Syriac habitat Tur Abdin in Southeast Turkey. From the mountain high monastery of Monk Aho, one can see far into Syria and into Iraq as far as Mount Sinjar.

Poor Syriacs. From 700,000 pre-Sayfo Genocide of 1915 to only 25 thousand within the current Turkish territory. During those 106 years, the Syriacs found no peace in their home country and were forced to seek salvation in the diaspora. Whether the remaining two thousand Syriacs in Tur Abdin will find peace? The European Commission follows the case closely…

Also ReadTUR ABDIN: Syriac churches and monasteries nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. How Turkey nominated Syriac monasteries and churches in Tur Abdin for the tentative UNESCO list 2 weeks after the sentencing of monk Aho.