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Turkey transfers 1,600-year-old Syriac churches, properties to Diyanet

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Turkish authorities have transferred the ownership of churches, houses of worship and cemeteries that have belonged to the Syriac community for over 1,600 years to Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) as part of a process of liquidation in Mardin province.

According to a story in the Agos daily on Friday, after Mardin became a metropolitan municipality in 2012 the Mardin Governor’s Office established a liquidation committee that transferred numerous properties of the Syriac community, such as churches, monasteries and cemeteries, to public institutions.

Properties belonging to the Syriac community that earlier were under the legal entity of villages were transferred to the Diyanet after those villages became neighborhoods under the 2012 legislation.

The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation appealed the decision but was rebuffed by the liquidation committee.

Kuryakos Ergün, chairman of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, told Agos that dozens of churches and monasteries had been transferred first to the Treasury and then to the Diyanet. He also added that cemeteries have been handed over to the Metropolitan Municipality of Mardin.

“For years, minority foundations could not acquire property in Turkey. Then legislation was introduced in 2002, upon which we engaged in a number of initiatives. We were able to have some of the title deeds registered in the name of our foundation. And for others, the legal process was ongoing. It was not possible for us to follow up on all the title deeds. In the meantime cadastral work was being carried out as well. The cadastral offices did not show any sensitivity about the legislation enabling the acquisition of property by minority foundations. In the face of this situation, we are filing as many lawsuits as possible,” Ergün said.

Underlining that the history of Mor Gabriel Monastery dates back to the fourth century, Ergün said the monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world that is still active and is one of the most ancient religious centers of the Syriac community and the entire world with its history of more than 1,600 years.

The Midyat Syriac Deyrulumur Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation was established upon the imperial order of Sultan Abdülmecid Han during the Ottoman Empire in 1267 of the Islamic calendar (1851/1852 according to the Gregorian calendar), and its status was redefined and it became a legal entity on the basis of the Foundations Law of 13.06.1935 Article No. 2762. The foundation had been recognized as a religious community foundation according to a regulation issued in 2002 by the Directorate General of Foundations and was included in the List of Religious Community Foundations drafted the same year. Foundations not included in this list are not recognized as religious community foundations,” he added.

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