Felix Corley urges us to defend the persecuted Christian minority in Turkey.
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Syriac communities and new pressure on the Armenians and Greeks in Istanbul, it is time for Western Christians to show their concern.
"They are being forced to abandon their villages, their homes and their fields or be massacred," says one Syriac leader mournfully of his fellow believers. "Where are they supposed to go?"
The campaign to oust the last remaining Syriac Christian communities in the Tur Abdin region of south east Turkey has been stepped up. Turkish troops last month drove the 200 Christians of Hassana village in Mardin province from their homes.
Refugees from this and other villages are forced to seek refuge with fellow believers in nearby towns. The local bishop says the Church does not have the resources to provide shelter for the refugees in the subzero temperatures.
Last week village guards detained seven Christian shepherds after an arson attack on an electricity station in the village of Alagoz. All seven were tortured. These tortures have become all too frequent. Caught in the crossfire between the Turkish government and the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party, the PKK, the tiny remnant of the once-thriving Syriac Christian community is persecuted by both sides.
Despite the fact that no Syriac Christians have joined the PKK, Church representatives claim that community members have been arrested, tortured and killed by the security forces for alleged collaboration.
Four years ago the Syriac community in the Tur Abdin region numbered about 35,000 people. They are now 3,000. Ancient churches and monasteries are now empty as communities have fled to the relative safety of Istanbul, or for the lucky ones emigration to Western Europe. "Almost everyone has their passport ready," a Syriac Christian leader in Istanbul told News Network International.
The Syriac Christians have deliberately been targeted by the government and have been branded as "Armenians" in an attempt to stir up public hostility. Armenians are not popular in Turkey because of the losses suffered by the Turks ethnic cousins the Azeris in the war over the disputed enclave of NagornoKarabakh. The Turkish government has falsely alleged that Armenia has allowed PKK fighters to set up training camps over the border in Armenia.
All this public antiArmenian hysteria has affected not just the Syriac Christians. The Armenians themselves, numbering some 60,000 in Istanbul, are now suffering renewed pressure. The Education Ministry last week decreed that from now on Armenian is banned as the language of instruction in the remaining 19 Armenian schools in Istanbul. All subjects must be taught in Turkish. These moves come after a renewed spate of attacks on Christian churches in Istanbul.
The rights of long-established local Christians must be defended. They must be allowed to live in safety in Turkey and be allowed to flourish. If a Christian presence in Turkey is to continue, the international Christian community will have to take a more active interest in their fate.