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WikiLeaks: 2004-08-20: 04ADANA105: Syriac Christians, Some DEHAP Mayors Skeptical about Reform

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 01:20 PM CT


Viewing cable 04ADANA105, SYRIAC CHRISTIANS, SOME DEHAP MAYORS SKEPTICAL ABOUT REFORM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04ADANA105 2004-08-20 07:28 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Adana
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 ADANA 000105 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM PTER ECON IZ TU ADANA
SUBJECT: SYRIAC CHRISTIANS,
SOME DEHAP MAYORS SKEPTICAL ABOUT REFORM 
 
REF: A. ANKARA 03976 
 
     B. A) ANKARA 03976 
     C. A) ANKARA 03976  B) ADANA 0067 
 
 
1.(SBU) Summary:  Syriac Christian contacts and recently-elected 
DEHAP mayors in Mardin and Sirnak provinces expressed deep 
skepticism about GOT sincerity in implementing the raft of 
reform legislation passed in the last year and a half.  They 
called for "real language reform and cultural rights," with 
Syriac Christian contacts noting that return rates for western 
European resident-Syriacs are dropping off and religious freedom 
in Turkey for their community is little improved. Low scale 
reportedly PKK/KONGRA GEL terror attacks continue across 
southeast Turkey.  Attacks in late July and early August have 
been concentrated in Tunceli, Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin 
provinces, still featuring regular use of land mines or 
improvised explosive devices (IED's) (ref. A.)  Reports of 
regional residents' protests against the return of PKK/KONGRA 
GEL violence are declining. (ref.B.)  End Summary. 
 
Syriac Christians cite obstacles to village resettlement in 
Sirnak 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
------- 
 
2.(SBU) On August 4, PO visited the disputed former Syriac 
community Sari (sometimes called Sarekoye) village in western 
Sirnak province. The Sirnak governor ordered it vacated as of 
late July. It was inhabited by about 150-200 Kurdish villagers, 
almost all of whom were related to the approximately 20 village 
guards working in the village, which sits on a 
locally-significant military location along a major E-W road. 
Villagers expressed a desire to "co-exist" with Syriac 
Christians who wish to return and claimed that they had resided 
in the village prior to the 1994 departure of the Syriac 
community.  They showed that they had padlocked the Syriac 
Christian church in the village to prevent damage or looting in 
the Syriac community's absence.  Nevertheless, they said that 
since the Sirnak governor's departure order, only five of the 
village's 30 families had decided to leave and that the other 25 
families were staying, saying that the "government has not shown 
us where we would go and how we would rebuild elsewhere." 
 
3.(SBU)  In later August 4 discussions with senior Syriac 
Christian religious figures, PO was told that the Kurdish 
villager claims to the village were "all lies.  They were moved 
to Sari in the mid-1990's by the Army," one contact stressed. 
"They lived almost 30 kilometers away when our community left. 
The village guards make all their money there illegally 
harvesting wood, tapping the (BOTAS) northern Iraq pipeline, 
which passes nearby, and illegally renting pasture land to 
nomads," he said. (Note: AMCON ADANA cannot confirm the ground 
trace of the pipeline with the level of precision confirming 
such a claim would require.  End Note.)  Asked whether they 
thought that the potential Syriac community returnees would 
"co-exist" with the existing villagers, the contacts stressed 
that such an option was out of the question, claiming "Sari is 
ours, always was ours and we want it all back."  They did note, 
however, that the broader Syriac Christian community in Mardin 
and Sirnak provinces is comprised of about half exclusively 
Syriac villages and half mixed villages of Kurds, Turks, Arabs, 
Yazidis and Syriac Christians.  (Note: one Syriac community 
contact suggested that Sari also might be a village where one of 
the Syriac Bishop's lay staff lived in the past. End Note.) 
 
4.(SBU)  Asked about a Syriac diaspora letter to the diplomatic 
community in which there is mention of Syriac willingness to pay 
75,000 euro to the GOT to ensure the village is vacated, the 
senior Syriac Christian contacts replied that there was genuine, 
albeit reluctant, willingness to meet the Sirnak governor's 
proposal, but the governor himself had advised the Syriac 
community not to deposit the funds to date because the villagers 
refused to depart. (Note: the funds would have been deposited in 
a GOT account to support village services devoted to relocating 
the existing village population, according to the Syriac 
contacts.  End Note.)  The senior Syriac Christian contacts 
summed up by saying that the village's problems stemmed from a 
combination of village guards who enjoyed the local hegemonic 
position they garnered by occupying the high ground around the 
village and the complicity of local Jandarma, whom they alleged 
had been shielding the villagers from GOT pressure to vacate and 
sharing in the village guards' revenue-raising endeavors. 
(Note:  The local Jandarma commander reportedly rotated to a new 
assignment in late July and his successor only arrived a week 
ago.  There may be a connection to the timing of the recent 
Syriac diaspora circular on Sari.  Perhaps the Syriac community 
has calculated that this is an opportune time to increase 
pressure on the GOT. End Note.) 
 
Syriac diaspora "stunned" by killing in Mardin province 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
5.(SBU)  Senior Syriac Christian contacts also said that their 
community's slow, but steady return to Mardin province in the 
last year has been stunted by the July 15 killing of a Syriac 
Christian head man or muhtar in a village near Dargecit in 
Mardin.  The muhtar was the sole remaining Syriac in the village 
and had been protecting diaspora land rights in the area.  He 
was popular with local Kurds who had elected him to his 
position, despite his de facto minority position in the local 
community.  The contacts claimed that a loyalist Kurdish leader 
in the area who had eloped almost 25 years earlier with a Syriac 
bride and who had tried to use that relationship to gain 
ownership of her diaspora familiy's land had persuaded two 
recently-returned young Syriac males to kill the muhtar (through 
an unclear method).  The two subsequently had been arrested and 
convicted for the killing and the local Kurdish leader was 
pressing his land claim again. 
 
6.(SBU)  The senior Syriac Christian contacts then said that the 
effect of the killing on the Syriac diaspora had been 
"chilling," that the community in western Europe had written to 
senior GOT leaders and that "virtually no one in the community" 
was considering return to Mardin or Sirnak "in the present 
circumstances." 
 
Lack of Syriac language rights also fuels skepticism 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
7.(SBU)  Senior Syriac Christian contacts also pointed to the 
lack of an ability to teach Aramaic to their community's 
children or see its inclusion or Syriac cultural content in 
public school curriculums in the region as evidence of a lack of 
"real" GOT commitment to reform.  "Nothing has really changed," 
the contact said, "(the GOT) is just scribbling any words on 
paper that they think the EU wants to hear right now."  Asked 
whether they had initiated proposals for such native language 
curriculum to the GOT, the contacts said that a small Syriac 
group in Istanbul was trying to develop such a curriculum, but 
the program had just started in the last two months. 
 
DEHAP mayors in Mardin, Sirnak share skepticism 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
8.(SBU) In August 3-4 meetings with PO, newly-elected DEHAP 
mayors in Mardin and Sirnak provinces, where the party garnered 
the majority of local municipalities, expressed deep skepticism 
that reform implementation would be forthcoming from the GOT. 
When asked for good news, mayors cited reduced reports of 
alleged torture in the last year, attributing this change to 
broader public awareness of the right to an attorney upon 
detention and reduced pre-trial detention times.  However, they 
were quick to continue (in the words of one mayor whose tone was 
echoed by others in different meetings) that "until the 
government recognizes there is a Kurdish question in Turkey, 
there will never be stability in the (southeast) region." 
Mayors pointed to a deep and widespread Kurdish community desire 
to see Kurdish language radio and television broadcast freedoms 
in private and public outlets as a bedrock community milestone 
for reform.  Instead, they said the GOT-trumpeted brief public 
broadcasts of fifteen minutes in Kurdish on state-run television 
are a mere "token gesture," completely undermining any Kurdish 
community confidence in "real and lasting reform." 
 
GOT attitudes are not changing either 
------------------------------------- 
 
9. (SBU)  One mayor, saying that even more important than "paper 
change," was change in the attitudes of appointed GOT officials, 
described a phenomenon reported more broadly in the region: GOT 
unwillingness to include elected mayors in the governing process 
of their communities.  He said that, since his Spring 2004 
election, only the local sub-provincial Security Director, in a 
brief office call, had acknowledged his election to office.  He 
had been excluded from municipal meetings, not invited to any 
Government officials' offices and not informed of any decisions 
on municipal matters, which government officials were deciding 
for themselves.  His DEHAP colleagues echoed this same exclusion 
from exercising their office since their respective elections. 
In another example of GOT attitudes limited only to one 
municipality, a mayor showed PO how the local sub-governor had 
delivered to the mayor his new municipal identification card 
with the sub-governor's name written in large script across the 
mayor's photo.  "This is how they want to tell me who is in 
charge," the mayor said. 
Finally, a Sirnak province DEHAP mayor described his recent 
transit of Diyarbakir two weeks earlier, returning from a 
Tunceli cultural festival, which he said "was broken up by 
police."  He said, when near the Mardin gate of Diyarbakir, a 
"helicopter was circling over the neighborhood shooting into 
houses."  When he said he stopped to ask what was happening, 
police told him the neighborhood was closed and that security 
officials recently had been killed in the area, pressing him to 
continue onward in his travel, which he did.  (Note: this 
account generally tracks with credible reports of the first few 
days of a GOT counter-terrorist operation in that part of 
Diyarbakir city.  GOT helicopter use cannot be corroborated. 
The GOT, however, does have several transport/utility 
helicopters based in Diyarbakir.  End Note.)  He said that the 
experience left him "feeling discouraged about where the region 
was headed." 
 
Another DEHAP mayor arrested after his election 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
10. (SBU)  A Mardin province DEHAP mayor described how he had 
returned from almost a decade of residence in an EU country in 
early Spring 2004 to run for mayor in his home community.  He 
said that, upon his return, no action was taken against him, 
despite his earlier arrest and alleged torture when mayor in the 
same town during the Evren coup-era.  Nevertheless, he said that 
he was arrested by "the Army and Jandarma" the night after being 
elected on charges of being a PKK member, which he denied.  He 
said that he was treated humanely when in detention, allowed 
access to an attorney, but questioned "over and over again by 
Army sergeants with photos of me talking to PKK members in 
Iran."  He said that prosecutors and judges whom he saw during 
his few days of detention said to him that his arrest would not 
"hold up in court," but that GOT security forces were 
"determined to press their case against him."  He said that he 
was released after several days and is still now facing an 
ongoing trial.  He told PO that he was not a PKK/KONGRA GEL 
member, but had a close family member in PKK/KONGRA GEL.  He 
said he had flown to Iran from the EU nation to try 
unsuccessfully to persuade him to leave the organization. 
 
11.(SBU)  Asked how things had changed since his return from the 
EU nation, he said that there were fewer reports of torture, of 
which he was pleased, but that the GOT was "as determined as 
before" to exclude anything Kurdish from public life.  He said 
that he wanted to see his grandchildren taught Kurdish in 
school, watch a Kurdish-language television show not broadcast 
from Iraq or western Europe (Note: samples of which he switched 
on his television in his office to demonstrate.  End Note.), be 
able to speak Kurdish in public political rallies and meetings, 
and gather at a Kurdish cultural festival without fear of police 
or Jandarma arresting and beating people.  He said that "those 
days are not here yet."  He specifically noted that he wants 
nothing to do with separatism, actively speaks against notions 
of a greater Kurdistan and "just wants to be a Kurdish citizen 
of the Turkish republic."  He also said that there was no 
economy in eastern Mardin, which discouraged him.  He was trying 
to focus on building roads and a children's park in his town, as 
well as encouraging grape cultivation for a new Syriac 
community-financed wine production center elsewhere in Mardin. 
 
12.(SBU)  The Mardin province DEHAP mayor echoed Syriac concerns 
about the negative role he sees the continuing village guard 
system playing in village resettlement and regional 
reconciliation.  He said that the village guards were behind a 
July 2004 attack in his town, even though the GOT attributed the 
attack to PKK/KONGRA GEL.  "It would be the most well-aimed PKK 
attack ever, (Note: from a GOT perspective. End Note.)" he said, 
"were the Government to be right.  It shot up the parts of the 
police station where no one was, shooting along the roofline in 
an almost perfect straight line and not knocking out a single 
window or injuring a single person.  All it did was make the 300 
nearby people feel insecure and allow the Government the 
opportunity to assert the continued need for security and 
'stability measures' here.  The real winners are the village 
guards.  Without instability, they have no reason to exist." 
13.(SBU) No contacts reported increases in the size of the 
village guard forces in their respective communities. Nor did 
they report any new recruitment of village guards.  Some Syriac 
contacts reported community fear that returning diaspora members 
might be pressed into the village guard as a quid pro quo for 
allowing village resettlement, but no one reported that this had 
actually happened.  One contact explained that most returnees 
now are age fifty or older, independent-minded, 
European-educated and wary of GOT authority, and that they 
therefore may not be attractive candidates for the village 
guard's cadre in GOT security force opinion. 
 
GOT resigned, hopeful dam project will help 
------------------------------------------- 
 
14.(SBU)  Several sub-governors viewed the region in a more 
detached, almost resigned fashion.  Reflecting on recent 
violence, one Mardin sub-governor said "that is what happens 
here in summer, but PKK needs to recognize that it has been 
passed up by history and it is out of step with the world order 
since September 11.  It is outmoded and does not know its place. 
 If it keeps using violence, it will be destroyed and people 
will reject it," he said.  Another Sirnak sub-governor said that 
"as long as there is a place (in Iraq) for PKK, they will keep 
attacking us.  We know that.  We will have to deal with them to 
prevent problems (in Iraq) from crossing into Turkey to disturb 
our citizens.  Fighting terrorism is a necessity.  We must be 
strong against it wherever it is.  You cannot deal with it in 
another way," he said. 
 
15.(SBU)  Several GOT officials said that they saw the need for 
an expanded economy to "focus the population's energy away from 
violence."  Only one had detailed ideas of how that might 
manifest itself - in eastern Mardin province.  That sub-governor 
spoke of the challenges of dry land agriculture, the recent 
importing of pistachios trees to northeast Mardin from Gaziantep 
province, a search for heartier grape varieties for possible use 
in winemaking (Note: he had just transferred in to Mardin 
province from a wine area in the Izmir region.  End Note.), and 
the expected boon to regional employment that will come in 2005 
when the Iliusu dam project starts.  He said that the Iliusu dam 
would be the next extension of the Southern Anatolia Project 
("GAP" in Turkish) and that it would employ 3,000 "skilled 
workers and two to three times that many unskilled and day 
laborers."  "It will transform this region, bringing water, 
electricity and work," he predicted. (Note: The proposed Iliusu 
dam project is highly controversial since it would flood 
historically unique Hasankeyf in Batman province, a site with 
many layers of civilization on the Tigris river, and would 
displace tens of thousands of people.  End Note.) 
 
Comment 
------- 
16.(SBU) Comment:  DEHAP Kurds and Syriac Christians are some of 
the GOT's staunchest critics.  Contacts from these groups in 
Mardin and Sirnak generally were downbeat about GOT efforts to 
"deal with the Kurdish agenda" or embrace religious freedom. 
They were skeptical of GOT sincerity at implementing recently 
enacted reforms.  Syriac Christian contacts, however, gave both 
the Mardin and Sirnak governates "good marks" for doing what 
they could to foster Syriac diaspora return to the two provinces 
from western Europe.  They cast most of their criticism at the 
village guard system and its military administration apparatus. 
While the assertions of neither DEHAP contacts nor GOT officials 
about who is behind which recent attack can be accepted without 
due diligence, the observation that forces other than the 
PKK/KONGRA GEL might be behind some of the recent more limited 
scale regional violence bears consideration.  Still, it is not 
credible that village guards would be behind many of the terror 
attacks killing and injuring GOT security forces with land 
mines, IED's, or larger-scale force deployments.  End Comment. 
 
 17. BAGHDAD MINIMIZE CONSIDERED. 
 
 
REID


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