Turkey was once home to a diverse population that included millions of Christians. Much of that community left or was forced out of the country over the past 100 years. Life has been extremely challenging for those who have attempted to return home “to live on our own soil.” They have faced legal challenges in relation to property rights and citizenship issues. Also, the social pressures against them as both a religious and ethnic minority have led to harassment and in some cases violence.
By Vercihan Ziflioğlu
8/09/2013 Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) – A total of 12 Syriac families living in European countries have returned to Turkey, settling in the southeastern province of Mardin’s Midyat district despite fears for their security.
The Syriac families settled in the village of Elbeğendi, 100 kilometers away from Midyat, and referred to as Kafro by Syriacs. The families hold double citizenship, keeping their Turkish citizenship as they migrated to European countries from Turkey years ago.
İsrail Demir, a member of one of the Syriac families, said in a recent interview that they had built their houses in Kafro close to each other due to security fears.
Demir told the Hürriyet Daily News that they had decided to return Elbeğendi village where their ancestors once lived saying that “each tree grows in its own soil; we wanted to live on our own soil.”
Attacker is free: Demir
Demir said he was attacked twice on his property last year when he urged a migrant not to damage his wheat fields.
“This person attacked me just because I urged him on not to damage my wheat field. This person is still free. I have been subject to another attack too. If there is democracy, how could this person be free? I have told the governor and prosecutor that I do not feel safe here. EU Minister Egemen Bağış wished me a speedy recovery, but these are not important to me as long as the attacker walks free,” said Demir, speaking of his fears over security while living in Turkey.
Demir said many Syriac and Christian families left Mardin and other parts of Turkey back in 1970s due to the difficulties they faced in those years.
“My father was shot in 1972. I migrated to Istanbul in 1977 after this incident. In 1979, I left Turkey for Germany,” said Demir. Recalling that in 2001, the Turkish government led by late politician Bülent Ecevit called on Syriacs to return to Turkey, Demir said the families started to debate this issue for several years since then. After several meetings, they decided to return to their ancestors’ village, said Demir.
“There are still [unresolved] problems in this country [Turkey]. The difficulties of democracy, human rights and religion…,” said Demir.