ICC Note: While Christians across the region are facing direct attacks, those few who remain in Turkey are wondering what their future will hold. Christians made up a significant portion of the population just a century ago, and now number in just a few thousands. A visit by the Pope is stirring questions of what their future will be, along with that of Christians across the Middle East
11/26/2014 Turkey (AINA) In a small village in the southeast of Turkey stand two Assyrian churches, one a thousand years old, the other modern, signs of both the region’s Christian past and the determination of those who remain to bring it to life again.
Seyde Bozdemir was born in the village of Elbegendi in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin. Like many of its inhabitants she decided to leave, in her case to Germany. But now she is determined to return.
“Here is our home. It is here that we want to finish our lives and be buried,” said Seyde on a visit back to her home village.
“In the 1980s, we left without a way back. It had become very difficult, almost impossible. But when we dream, we still dream of here. It is for this that we want to live here.”
The Christian Assyrian community in Turkey, which now numbers no more than a few thousand, has been hit by wave after wave of emigration since the foundation of the modern Turkish state in 1923 out of the ruins of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.
But hope has not been lost that there will be a presence in the future, with some expecting a small boost from the first visit of Pope Francis to Turkey, which begins on Friday.
The mayor of Elbegendi returned to the land of his childhood after 23 years in Switzerland.
Aziz Demir still remembers the worst years of the conflict between the army and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the late 1980s, which turned the settlement into a phantom village.
“In the daytime, the army was in the streets, in the night it was the PKK,” he said.
“During this period, 50 to 60 Christians were assassinated in the region. We wanted to stay neutral but it was not possible. We left.”
“But now we want to return. To protect our religion and our culture.”
He is expecting great things of the visit of Pope Francis. “The Vatican has to act. The Christians of the east were always sacrificed. They should be able to live on their own lands at last. “These last years, 17 new houses have been built in Elbegendi to host the handful of families who, like him, have returned to their origins.