Syriac association chair: I fear we will be forced to convert to Islam under gov’t decree

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Yuhanna Aktaş

Yuhanna Aktaş, chairperson of the Mardin Syriac Unity Association, which was closed down in 2015, has said with irony that he is afraid Syriacs will be forced to convert to Islam by government decree, the artigercek news website reported on Monday.

The association was closed down by a Mardin court in April 2015 on the grounds that its bylaws contravened the relevant laws in Turkey about the establishment and functioning of foundations.

Speaking about the possible transfer of Syriac churches and monasteries to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, Aktaş expressed concern about the future of the Syriacs, saying: “I am afraid we will be forced to convert to Islam by government decree.”

A state of emergency (OHAL) declared after a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 allows Turkish authorities to press ahead with many controversial decrees that have the force of the law and are not required to be approved by Parliament.

While a special commission established under the Mardin Governor’s Office cancelled a decision to transfer Syriac churches and monasteries to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, the fate of assets remains unclear.

“We will apply to court, but you know the situation of courts in Turkey…  They [authorities] told us, the people whose properties were seized, that we can use these properties until a definite decision is made. It’s like they’re doing us a favor,” said Aktaş.

Interpreting the current situation of Turkey as a disaster, Aktaş said Syriacs have not been able to practice their religious ceremonies for the past two years.

“We have never been so desperate,” added Aktaş.

Renate Sommer, a member of the European Parliament from the Christian Democratic Union, part of the European People’s Party, harshly criticized the decision of seizure and said the Syriacs were at risk of being wiped out in Turkey.

The Syriac community has a total of seven foundations in Turkey, most of which are located in Mardin. According to Turkish officials, there are approximately 25,000 Syriacs living in Turkey, 18,000 of whom are in İstanbul, with the rest scattered in eastern and southeastern provinces.

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