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WikiLeaks: 2005-06-08: 05ANKARA3191: Turkey's Syriacs Skeptical about Prospects for Greater Freedom

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 04:45 PM CT


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05ANKARA3191 2005-06-08 10:53 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 003191 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/08/2015 
REASONS; E.O. 12958 1.4 (b,d). 
1.(SBU)  Summary:  Turkey,s Syriac community leadership in 
Mardin province remains skeptical of the prospect of greater 
religious freedom in the foreseeable future.  Contacts report 
tentative interest among diaspora families in returning to 
Mardin, but note that the perception of flagging Turkish 
reforms and at least one incident at a recent returnee 
village are dampening enthusiasm.  The Syriacs are organizing 
their community, including through diaspora contacts in 
northern Europe, to advocate retention of property rights in 
rural areas where Syriac diaspora and internal migrant 
communities face potential loss of property as the GoT 
embarks on a rural land survey process in parts of the Tur 
Abdin, the traditional Syriac area in Mardin and nearby 
Sirnak province.  These provinces were the center of Turkey's 
Syriac community from early Christian times until Turkish 
authorities' pressure in the 1970's and the pressures of the 
PKK insurgency in the 1980's and 1990's prompted the 
community's members to flee to safety elsewhere in Turkey, 
Western Europe, and the Americas.  End Summary. 
2.(C) In a 6/1 meeting with AMCON Adana PO at the Mor Gabriel 
monastery in Midyat, Syriac community bishop Samuel Aktas 
displayed continued skepticism about the prospect of 
"meaningful change among the Turkish authorities toward the 
(Syriac) Church."  He said that he had been pleased that 
Syriac new year had been celebrated, including attendance by 
GoT authorities, but there had been "no changes" on issues 
which mattered to the church, such as official recognition 
from the government of the church's status, the ability to 
teach clergy in Turkey, the ability to teach Aramaic to 
Syriac children in state schools, religious property 
ownership, and protection of community property rights in the 
Syriac area in eastern Mardin and western Sirnak. 
3.(C)  Aktas seemed most disappointed by Swedish Syriac 
diaspora approaches to FM Gul on the margins of a May 2005 
Partnership for Peace meeting in Sweden.  Gul reportedly had 
agreed to a short interview on the Swedish diaspora 
television network, which is also seen via satellite in 
Turkey.  In the interview, Aktas said that Gul had been 
"talking happy, but offering no specifics.  He just made 
general promises and avoided any of the important details." 
Reportedly asked off-camera about some of these important 
details by diaspora representatives, Gul was similarly 
non-committal, Aktas said. 
4.(C)  Aktas said that a Diyarbakir sub-governor "recently" 
also had visited the Mor Gabriel monastery in a private 
capacity, but while there had engaged the bishop in a 
discussion of GoT perspectives on the church.  Reportedly the 
sub-governor had told the bishop that GoT authorities 
realized that they had "done injustices to the (Syriac) 
Church in past years, and maybe things would change for the 
better in 5-10 years," but answering Syriac calls for the 
ability to teach clergy and teach their children in Aramaic 
was caught up in wider issues.  "We can't do it for you 
before we do it for others.  I am sorry. You will just have 
to wait," the sub-governor reportedly said. 
5(C)   After this meeting, seeing "no recent changes," and 
wondering aloud about the outcome for enlargement after the 
French "non" to the EU constitutional referendum,  Aktas 
expressed continuing skepticism that meaningful change soon 
would be forthcoming. 
6.(SBU)  Aktas said that a late April, early May 2005 
incident at the Sari village, in which what he described as a 
bomb was found in an orchard tree where new village returnees 
were planning to restart cultivation, had cooled some 
diaspora interest in near-term return to parts of Mardin. 
7.(C)  Aktas said that Syriac community members had 
approached the local Jandarma sergeant about the origins of 
the bomb and an inquiry into how it could have been placed in 
the tree.  The Jandarma sergeant said it was unlikely the 
bomb was of PKK origin and looked like material from GoT 
inventory.  He did not offer much prospect of a GoT 
investigation into the incident, although Aktas said that 
subsequent higher level attention to the issue from 
additional Syriac community contacts with province level 
authorities may reverse the local sub-district sergeant's 
initial disinclination to investigate.  Aktas said that 
Syriac community members suspected disgruntled village guards 
had placed the bomb in the tree to retaliate for being 
evicted from the village last year and that the Jandarma were 
embarrassed by the incident, but did not want to see the 
village guard's conduct brought to light. 
8.(SBU)  Aktas and several visiting Syriac Diaspora members 
said that they are organizing their community, including 
through diaspora contacts in northern Europe, to advocate 
retention of property rights in rural areas where Syriac 
diaspora and internal migrant communities face potential loss 
of property as the GoT embarks on a rural land survey process 
 in parts of Mardin and nearby Sirnak province (with even a 
few hamlets as far east at Uludere).  The Syriacs said that 
they were attempting to organize six-member committees to 
document prior land ownership in many villages where detailed 
property titles and surveys had yet to be made and, since the 
diaspora's departure, Kurdish and Turkish-ethnic villager 
squatting was common, including conversion of some Syriac 
parish churches to mosques.  Aktas said that there is, as 
yet, no broad community consensus about how to proceed with 
what is widely perceived as a process which will confirm a 
loss of property rights and reduced Syriac influence in many 
formerly Syriac-dominated locales in Mardin.  Aktas said that 
community representatives have expressed their concerns to 
the Mardin governor's office, who reportedly asked for an 
investigation, but Aktas expects little change to the 
existing bureaucratic momentum. 
9.(C)  Aktas said that the monastery's staff is responding to 
German MFA inquiries on the land survey process and that 
Swiss and Swedish diplomats have shown similar interest. 
10. (C) Comment: Aside from occasional Potemkin Village-like 
displays by Turkish authorities in the Tur Abdin region, 
Ankara has been conspicuously indifferent to the slow death 
of a Christian community with almost two millenia's presence 
in this corner of modern-day Turkey.  Indeed, FonMin Gul's 
attitude is closer to complicity.  End comment. 

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