WikiLeaks: 2005-06-08: 05ANKARA3191: Turkey's Syriacs Skeptical about Prospects for Greater Freedom
Viewing cable 05ANKARA3191, TURKEY'S SYRIACS SKEPTICAL ABOUT PROSPECTS FOR
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 003191 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/08/2015 TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL TU OSCE SUBJECT: TURKEY'S SYRIACS SKEPTICAL ABOUT PROSPECTS FOR GREATER FREEDOM. (U) CLASSIFIED BY POLCOUNSELOR JOHN KUNSTADTER; REASONS; E.O. 12958 1.4 (b,d). (U) THIS CABLE IS FROM AMCONSUL ADANA. 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. MOORE