Turkey Returns Only Less Than Half of Syrian Monastery’s Land it Seized
The returned property is less than half of the land the monastery has owned since 1935. The monastery, in the southeastern province of Mardin, was built in 397 and is considered a holy place by Syriac Orthodox in Turkey and the diaspora.
The property first was contested in 2008 when the Turkish Forestry Ministry, the Land Registry Cadaster Office and three surrounding villages sued the monastery for allegedly “occupying” their land.
The heated legal battles ended in June 2012 when the Turkish supreme court of appeals upheld a decision to give substantial parts of the monastery to the Turkish Treasury and the Ministry of Forestry.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan announced in September that the government would return the land to the Syriac Orthodox Church, its historic owner as part of the government’s “democratization package”, according to the statement issued by the Turkish Ministry of EU Affairs. The decision was approved by the state agency for foundations.
In February 2014, the head of the Mor Gabriel Monastery, received the property deeds to 12 plots of land (244,000 square metres, or 60 acres). However, the government did not return the remaining 18 plots of land (320,000 square meters, or 79 acres). Of this 79 acres in dispute , about 67 acres, are now in the hands of the Turkish Forestry Ministry. The rest remains seized by the Turkish treasury. This is despite the Turkish prime minister’s declaration that all the land would be returned.
Two years ago, the monastery’s foundation took its case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strassburg, France, which attracted international attention and became a topic in Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. In the European Commission’s 2013 Turkey Progress report, it noted that the government’s abeyance on the issue was a cause for concern and called on Turkey to “ensure full respect for all property rights, including those of non-Muslim religious communities.”
Caught in between the violence between ethnic Turks and Kurds, many of the Syriacs had to leave Turabdin in the last 50 years. There are now only 2,500 Syriac Orthodox in Turabdin, where the monastery is located, compared to about 50,000 in 1950, according to Reuters.
The sectarian violence in neighboring Syria has led some of Syriac Orthodox to flee to Turkey and many of them have found temporary refuge in Turabdin, where they can practice their religion. This has caused the Syriac Orthodox population of Turabdin to go up a little in recent years.