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WikiLeaks: 2005-04-27: 05ANKARA2388: Syriacs Celebrate New Year, but Lament Village Property Dispute

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 04:28 PM CT


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05ANKARA2388 2005-04-27 13:15 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 002388 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/27/2015 
REF: A. 04 ADANA 127 
     B. 04 ADANA 105 
FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) & (D). 
1.  (SBU) Summary:  Representatives of the Syriac community 
in Mardin province expressed to poloff satisfaction about a 
first-ever (for Turkey) Syriac New Year celebration held on 
April 1.  At the same time, they expressed concern about a 
property dispute brewing in Bardakci village of Mardin, where 
contacts say 50 Syriac homes have been destroyed, one of two 
Syriac churches converted to a mosque, and church lands 
confiscated and put up for sale.  The Bardakci case provides 
an example of the property problems facing religious minority 
groups, and illustrates the challenges related to achieving 
returns to the Southeast, even to places where some village 
infrastructure still exists.  End summary. 
Celebrations and Returns 
2.  (C)  During poloff's visit to a Syriac Christian 
monastery in Midyat on April 14, the Syriac Bishop there and 
members of his lay staff expressed satisfaction about the 
Syriac New Year celebration held in Midyat on April 1.  They 
told us that more than 3000 people from Europe, Iraq and 
Syria had attended the event, being held for the first time 
in Turkey.  The celebration was reportedly broadcast by a 
diaspora television station recently established in Sweden 
and afterwards, according to the Bishop, callers from Iraq 
phoned the monastery claiming they hadn't even known there 
were Syriacs in Anatolia.  "Participants asked themselves," 
said the Bishop, "'Am I in Turkey?'"  In addition to feeling 
ecstatic about celebrating the event in Turkey, visitors who 
had been away for years told our contacts they were heartened 
by last year's resolution of property disputes in the village 
of Sarikoy (reftels), and stories of approximately 16 houses 
being constructed by Syriacs in Elbegendi village, just south 
of Midyat. 
3.  (C)  The Bishop himself did not attend the celebration as 
he was in Damascus at the time, but he related (to our 
surprise) that the entire event had been organized in one 
week's time.  Apparently initiated by a member of the Syriac 
diaspora in Europe - who must have received the "green light" 
from the government first, according to the Bishop - the 
event was authorized and attended by the Mardin Governor. 
(Note:  In a March 22 press release, a diaspora group claimed 
the government "forcefully" changed the name that had been 
proposed for the event, but the Bishop played down that 
claim, stating that organizers were able to feature exactly 
the formulation they preferred - Syriac New Year - on a large 
banner at the event, if not on the invitation.  End note.) 
The Bishop stated that he had had some concerns 
about the event going forward so soon after the Mersin flag 
incident and the ensuing nationalist sentiments, but that his 
concerns proved to be unfounded. 
Property Problems Remain 
4.  (C)  This positive development notwithstanding, Syriac 
contacts are troubled about another property issue brewing in 
Bardakci village of Mardin province (Note:  Bardacki is 
called "Bote" village by the Syriacs.) Contacts state that 
more than 85 Syriac Christian families lived in the village 
in 1978, but that now only six families remain (in Midyat and 
Istanbul) after the majority fled to Europe in the mid-1980s. 
 Since 2000, approximately 50 Syriac homes in the village 
have been destroyed, according to the Syriacs, and contacts 
at the monastery offered us a photograph of the community 
taken when the houses still existed.  (Note:  The Syriac 
diaspora group claims the houses were destroyed by bulldozers 
"with the order of the state" but post cannot confirm that at 
this time.  End note.) 
5.  (C) Moreover, contacts allege that land associated with 
one of the community's two churches in the village was 
confiscated by the government in 2000, by means of local 
officials who conspired to change property records.  Recently 
the land was reportedly offered for sale -- at a total price 
of approximately 100,000 Euros, we were told  -- by the State 
Treasury.  (Note: Land registration is incomplete, at best, 
in this region; the absence of property deeds adds to the 
difficulty in solving such issues. End note.) Another dispute 
in the village involves the conversion of one of two Syriac 
churches into a mosque; monastery lay staff say this was done 
without consultation with the Syriac Community in Midyat. 
Headman Guards the Key to One Church... 
5.  (C) Despite these issues, representatives of the 
monastery in Midyat regularly visit the village, with 
apparently little interference, as they have been renovating 
the larger of the two churches in the village (the one not 
converted into a mosque) since 2002, with funds raised by 
members of the Syriac community in Europe.  The current 
headman of the village safeguards the key to this church for 
the monastery lay staff members, and appears to have at least 
a polite relationship with monastery representatives, unlike 
his predecessor, who used the grounds of the church as a 
stable until being forced to leave the property by a previous 
...While Another is used as a mosque 
6.  (C) Poloff visited the large and impressive church being 
renovated (said to date back 1,500 years), and had an 
opportunity to see the other smaller church building, to 
which an aluminum minaret has been attached.  We also saw 
traces of houses that were allegedly destroyed by bulldozers, 
though post cannot confirm the circumstances of the houses' 
destruction.  Our contacts told us that in August 2003, both 
Syriac and Muslim (ethnic Kurdish) members of the community 
had met to search for an amicable resolution to some of the 
conflictive issues.  Despite some initial agreement on how to 
move forward, there have been no practical results. More 
recent visits to the current Sub-Governor of Midyat, contacts 
said, have also been unproductive to date. 
7.  (C) Comment:  Syriac contacts in Mardin - unlike more 
confrontational diaspora representatives - are reluctant to 
give the appearance to the government that they are 
"complaining too much," despite their apparent skepticism 
about the government's sincerity on issues relating to 
religious minorities' rights.  They are savvy about using 
international interest to their advantage, but also work 
local channels of communication with officials quietly as 
they seek solutions to their issues, as they did in the case 
of Sarikoy. 
8.  (C)  Comment, cont'd:  It appears that ethnic Kurdish 
residents of Bardakci, many of whom are likely village 
guards, as well as local officials, were more than happy to 
assume the departure of the Syriac Christian families from 
the village, and indeed, the region, was permanent. The 
recent notice of sale of the church lands seems to have been 
the straw that broke the camel's back, and put the village's 
plight more prominantly on the agenda of the Syriac 
community. The government's and State's approach to this 
dispute will be another important test of Ankara's commitment 
to supporting displaced persons' return to southeast Turkey 
and, as important, its commitment to religious tolerance and 

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