ICC Note: Confiscation of land that has been owned by Christians and other religious minorities have been claimed, in many cases by armed groups that have threatened violence against those who might try to reclaim the land. This further limits the places where Christians can find a safe place to live in the lands that have long been their homelands.
12/05/2014 Turkey (Al-Monitor) Dressed in a black robe and embroidered cap, Father Yoqin leaned over the rampart of Mor Augin and lowered a hose to a municipal fire truck waiting to pump the weekly water supply up to the mountain monastery. Abandoned for decades, Mor Augin was reopened a couple of years ago as a sign of the Syriac church’s determination to keep the faith alive in its homeland in southeastern Turkey, despite the dwindling numbers of Christians in the region.
On a clear day, Father Yoqin can see across the Turkish border and Kurdish-held territory in Syria all the way into Iraq, where Mount Sinjar rises from Ninevah province in the distance. But the Syriac monk does not need to look that far to see his people endangered. A glance down to the plains rolling out below the mountain will suffice: Most of the monastery’s own lands there — hundreds of acres — have been seized by Kurdish tribes that are armed and determined to hang on to them.
This is not an isolated case, according to Serhat Karasin, a lawyer in Diyarbakir. Recent land grabs targeting Christians and Yazidis in southeastern Turkey number in the thousands, by his estimate.
Karasin, who has represented the monastery in its long-running attempts to recuperate its properties, has just returned from talks with district officials, the provincial governorate and the Interior Ministry in Ankara on behalf of the Yazidi village of Efse, not far from Mor Augin, whose former inhabitants are being prevented from returning to their hamlet by the armed forces of a neighboring Kurdish tribe.
“They have threatened the Yazidis that they will suffer the same fate as those of Sinjar,” if they persist in trying to return, Karasin told Al-Monitor, adding that he had pleaded for the urgent intervention of the state. The authorities had shown themselves sympathetic, but not actually done anything yet, he said.
Hardly a Christian village in Tur Abdin, the ancient heartland of the Syriac church between the Tigris and the Syrian border, has been left unaffected by the turmoil over landownership that was triggered by the modernization of Turkish land registry records in the 1990s and 2000s, Yuhanna Aktas, president of the Syriac Unity Association in Midyat, told Al-Monitor. The Yazidis had fared even worse, he said. The Turkish state’s land registration works were undertaken at a time when most Christians and Yazidis, as well as many Kurds, were living in European exile, having fled persecution, poverty and the Kurdish war in which they were crushed between the fronts, he explained. With the land registration, many lost their land to the treasury, which is entitled to confiscate land when it has lain fallow for 20 years, or to the forestry, which can seize all forested land.