News in Bet-Nahren, Assyria

Turkey Destroys Assyrian Villages
by Turkish Daily News, August 29, 1996.
Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 06:29 pm CST


ISTANBUL, Turkey (TDN) - The unjust treatment of Assyrians in Turkey despite the definition used by political leaders of a "colorful, mosaic Turkey", the disappearance of those colors cannot be hidden any more - and the most blatant example of colors that are about to disappear altogether are the 45,000 Assyrians out of a total of 50,000 who have emigrated from Turkey in the last 20 years.

The number of Assyrians in Turkey today is about 5,000. This population is limited to the big cities only because every single once-thriving Assyrian village has now become a ghost town. The Assyrians have been forced to look for a future outside Turkey. Their burnt villages, unequal education, and other pressures have forced them to seek a country where they can live in a more democratic way. It will be enough to look at recent history without rose-tinted spectacles to see and judge all these developments in a more objective way.

In Turkey, Assyrian villages are burnt and people tortured. Given the fact that this reality is not hidden, the German Federal Court, after a resolution passed in 1996, explained that the Assyrians would be taken under consideration as a complete group. The reason for this decision was that the Turkish government does not pursue the complaints of the Assyrian minority so as not to risk the loyalty to the state of the "Aghas" or local chiefs, the village guards and Hizbullah in the South East. Another interesting point was that Germany, which believes that Kurds can live securely outside the South East, has concluded that the Assyrians are nowhere safe in Turkey and has given them the right to refuge.

Emigration is not something new for the Assyrians, as they have been doing it for the last 20 years. Researchers generally agree that the reason for this emigration has not been economic, but people have been forced to emigrate because of pressures in the region. The Assyrian population was about 50,000 in the South East Turkey in the 1950's, but this number has now decreased to 2,000, with the majority in Midyat and its surrounding villages. With the majority of Assyrians in Istanbul, the total population for the whole country is about 5,000.

A representative of the Orthodox churches, journalist and writer Isa Karatas, draws attention to another point: "In Turkey only Armenians and Greeks have the rights of minorities. Even though Assyrians are Christian, they cannot benefit from these rights." In Turkey, Assyrians may be Christian, but not a minority. Since they do not have minoity rights, they cannot establish their own schools, and as a result cannot provide for the development and learning of their own language. The language courses organized in the churches have not been able to expand due to various reasons. Neither does the Turkish government tolerate these language classes and has tried to stop them. The most blatant example of the situation was experienced in the Deyrulzafran Monastery in Mardin. In 1979 the education of religion and language was banned. It was said that the Assyrian children educated in this monastery were joining terrorist organizations.

In the state-sponsored religious classes, religions other than Islam are reviewed in only three pages of the course books, and are also not given within the framework of their own values. While Assyrian parents introduce their children to the Bible as the book that shows the way to God and the priests as respected people explaining this way, the government books introduce the Bible as something that has either been destroyed or altered and the priests as the ones who changed it to their own advantage. The Turkish Professor Mehlika Aktot Kasgarli, in the book entitled "Turco-Semites in Mardin and Surrounding Populations" writes this about Assyrians: "These Turkish Christians, who accepted our language and traditions and who do not have the status as a minority, are called Turco-Semites, in consideration of their origin. Turco-Semites are not a different nation from the Turkish nation, and they even have Turkish characteristics." Kasgarli also calls Kurds "Mountain Turks."

On August 2, 1992, the Assyrian village of Catalcan was attacked. The Assyrian graveyard and houses were destroyed. On January 21, 1993, the village of Izbirak in Midyat was attacked and four Assyrians were kidnapped. Between 1995 and 1996 twenty Assyrian villages have been attacked in similar fashion and evacuated. The Turkish government has gone one step further and revoked the citizenship of many so-called "Turco-Semites." Since 1980, 20 Assyrian girls have been kidnapped by people claiming to be the village guards (Turkish village police). The priest of Ogunduk village, Melke Tok, was kidnapped on January 9, 1994, by people suspected of being Hizbullah supporters. After being buried alive, he succeeded in escaping. He said he was put under pressure to convert to Islam.

In the face of such pressures, the Assyrians of Turkey have drifted away from the country of their birth to find a new life. And so another piece of the mosaic is chipped away.

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