The Syro-Orthodox monastery of Mor Gabriel or “Dayro d-Mor Gabriel,” called “Deyrulumur” in Turkish is one of the most ancient Christian convents in the world, dating back to the year 397 A.D. It is located southeast of the city of Midyat, in the province of Mardin, near the border with Syria and boasts elements built with the help of Byzantine emperors. Today it houses a small community of three monks and 14 sisters.
Mor Gabriel, known as the “second Jerusalem,” is also the See of the Metropolitan Mor Timotheus Samuel Aktas and the cultural and spiritual centre of the dwindling Syro-Orthodox community of Turkey and of numerous Syriacs who’ve emigrated to the West. Just 50 years ago, some 130,000 Syriacs lived in the region of Turabdin — the name means “mountain of the servants of God” — but today their number has decreased to just a few thousand.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may succeed in making it disappear, something that even the Mongols of the 14th century failed to achieve, when they killed 40 monks and some 400 faithful.
Paul de Maeyer or Zenit press agency reports that the monastery is at the centre of a harsh battle involving Suleyman Celebi, a Parliamentarian with the pro-Islamic ruling party of Erdogan (the AKP or Party of Justice and Development).
Despite the fact that the monastic complex precedes the birth of Islam and of the State of Turkey, there are claims of undue appropriation of land and that the monastery was built on a place where a mosque once stood (!). The monastic community is also accused of proselytism, because some young men study Eastern or Syrian Aramaic at the monastery.
A highly political and ideological decision was made public on Jan. 27 by the “Yargitay” or Ankara Court of Appeals overturning a previous verdict issued by the court of Midyat. According to the Yargitay decision, 12 plots of monastery land with a total area of 99 hectares (244 acres) are to be considered “forests” and hence belong “ipso facto” to the Turkish state.
For Mor Gabriel the lost of that piece of land means to lose the means of sustenance necessary for survival.
“The purpose of the threats and the lawsuit seems to be to repress this minority and expel it from Turkey, as if it were a foreign object,” the head of the Aramaic Federation, David Gelen, told AsiaNews back in 2009. “Turkey must decide whether it wants to preserve a 1,600-year-old culture, or annihilate the last remains of a non-Muslim tradition. What is at stake is the multiculturalism that has always characterized this nation, since the time of the Ottoman Empire.”
For Otmar Oehring, director of the Human Rights Office of the German Catholic organization Missio the basic problem is simply that no religious community exists or has ever existed for Turkish law, a situation that is “completely incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
“They don’t have a legal personality, but they exist,” admitted Turkish Vice Premier Bulent Arinc on Jan. 17, commenting on a legal battle over the Buyukada orphanage. (In 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had to return to the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople the Buyukada orphanage it had confiscated.)
For Mr. Oehring the only solution to undo all these knots is a change in the Constitution and criminal code of Turkey.
This was also admitted last October by the then head of the “Diyanet” (Directorate for Religious Affairs), professor Ali Bardakoglu. “The solution is to allow a religious institution to be autonomous. Turkey is ready for this,” he said, according to the daily Radikal. The following month, Bardakoglu lost his post…