VIENNA, Austria – After bringing the questionable judicial conviction by a Turkish court of monk Sefer “Aho” Bilecen to the attention of all parties in the Austrian government, the European Syriac Union received a response from the Austrian government stating that the Austrian embassy in Ankara is regularly monitoring the cultural and social situation of minorities in Turkey. The government added that it is in contact with several representatives of these minority groups and will exert diplomatic pressure on Ankara and urge the country to comply with international laws.
The Austrian government added that the issue of minorities, especially that of Christians, is an important part of its foreign policy. The Austrian Foreign Ministry asked the European Syriac Union to send the letter to Austrian Members of European Parliament. The official Austrian response comes after European Syriac Union representative in Austria Leila Bahdi, sent letters to all Austrian government parties regarding the trial of Syriac monk Aho, urging Austrian officials to hold the Turkish government accountable for its continued violations of minority rights in Turkey.
Monk Aho was arrested on January 9, 2020, by the Mardin police. At the same time, Turkish police arrested the Syriac mayor Yusuf Yar of the village of Arkah and Musa Taştekin from the Syriac village of Sederi. On April 7, 2021, monk Aho was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison for having given food and water to alleged members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who knocked on his monastery’s door at night – which Monk Aho does not deny. The PKK is an organization banned in Turkey and the Turkish court called the giving of bread and water “aiding a terrorist organization.”
It is not known whether Monk Aho will receive a fair trial in Turkey. States often use clergy as (political) leverage. They are easy targets and their cases receive media attention. The recent case of American pastor Brunson is one such example. Monk Aho too is an easy lever to silence the Syriac Orthodox Church in Turkey and abroad, Syriac opposition parties, and the Syrian diaspora in general.
Monk Aho is free pending his appeal and remains in the Saint Jacob of the Horn Monastery on Mount Izlo, Tur Abdin.