Assyrian priest arrested on terror charge in Turkey 

Three Assyrians, including a priest, have been arrested in southeastern Turkey on terror charges.

They were formally arrested on Friday after they were detained during a Turkish military operation on Thursday in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin.

Journalist Sedat Sur announced the arrests of Sefer Bilecen, the sole caretaker of 1,500-year-old Mor Yakup Monastery, Joseph Yar, the village headman, and Musa Tastekin on Twitter.

The three were taken into custody in the Uckoy village of Nusaybin district. They were taken to the Mardin Provincial Gendarmerie Command Anti-Terror Branch on Thursday, according to Bianet news portal.

There has been no immediate official statement by the authorities on the reason for the detentions.

The three detained based on a tip by an anonymous witness who alleged that they had previously provided a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with food, Bianet said, citing Kuryakos Ergun, the chair of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation.

The PKK is a terror-designated Kurdish group that has been waging war against the Turkish state for decades in southeastern Turkey, where it has a significant presence.

“We are afraid and worried. We did not expect this; we are confused,” Ergun told Bianet.

Yuhanna Aktas, the president of the Syriac Union, said they could not get any information about the detainees, calling the detentions intimidation operation towards the Christian Syriacs by the state.

“Why do you [the Turkish authorities] detain a person by using vicious methods like the notice. Syriacs all over the world feel restless. Those in Turkey have lost their confidence in living in these soils. We do not accept this situation. The Syriacs are one of the ancient communities in the country. Trying to expel the Syriacs from here is the biggest harm to those soils,” said Aktas.

A statement by the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights held the Turkish authorities fully responsible for the physical integrity of the detainees and called for their immediate release without any delay.

Tens of thousands of Syriacs have emigrated to Europe over the past few decades due to the armed conflict between the Turkish military forces and the outlawed PKK.

According to Sait Susin, chairman of the Syriac Orthodox Foundation in Istanbul, there around 20,000 Syriac Christian citizens living in Turkey, with some 3,000 residing mainly in rural areas where the land registry system was very poor.

For the first time in Turkish history, their property deeds have been returned due to judicial amendments on March 27, 2018.

Fifty-five official property deeds of historic Syriac properties, many predating Ottoman times, were delivered to their original owners, representing nearly half of their ancient church properties in the southeast region of Turkey, which had been confiscated by the state.

However, a municipality, controlled by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, has completed a controversial construction of a ‘People’s Garden’ and banquet hall on an Assyrian and Armenian graveyard in Mardin’s Dargecit district.

The Armenians are another Orthodox minority ethnicity that has been facing similar problems in the country as the Syriacs.

Sahak Masalyan, the Armenians’ newly elected patriarch in Turkey, said in November that Turkey has the least number of Christians among the Muslim countries.

“Turkey accommodates the least number of Christians in Islam geography. Losing cultural and linguistic wealth is also impoverishment. Just like we talk about how wrong Islamophobia is, we also need to talk about the Christianity-phobia,” the patriarch said at the time.

Turkish municipality builds over Assyrian and Armenian cemetery

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