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ICC Note: The appropriation of church properties by the Turkish state is an increasing cause of concern for the country’s Christians. Last summer, the government appropriated a number of Syriac church properties claiming that the ownership deeds had lapsed. Consequently, the Department of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) took over dozens of churches, and their congregants were left with nowhere to attend services. The state’s actions have been heavily disputed by Christians. Now, authorities say they plan to return the properties as part of a new omnibus bill.

02/08/2018 Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) –  A number of properties belonging to Turkey’s Syriac minority that were controversially handed to the state in recent years will be returned as part of a planned new omnibus bill, daily Hürriyet reported on Feb. 7.

If the new government-led bill passes, 30 properties in the southeastern province of Mardin will be returned to the Syriac community’s Foundation of the Monastery of Mor Gabriel.

Rudi Sumer, the lawyer of the foundation, said recent problems would partly be solved by the proposed article in the bill.

“The 30 properties that should be returned include the Mor Malke, Mor Ya’qub and Mor Dimet monasteries. These three are very important,” Sumer added.

The controversy arose when the Mardin Municipality was upgraded to “metropolitan municipality” status in 2014, prompting the title deeds of many monasteries, churches and cemeteries to be handed to a commission set up to deliver them to the relevant state institutions.

The Mor Gabriel Monastery was founded in 397 and served as the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox Christian monastery. It was returned to the community in November 2017.

On Nov. 22, Mor Behnam Church Patriarch Gabriel Akyüz welcomed the decision to return the historical monastery.

“We also kindly request the transfer of other churches, monasteries and cemeteries, not only the Mor Gabriel Monastery. These are the properties of the Syriac church, and most of them date back to the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries,” he said.

According to the website, which puts together historical references to the studies on Syriac culture, the Mor Malke Monastery “was built around the sixth century and became a bishopric see in the 14th century, but was destroyed in 1926.”

The Mor Ya’qub Monastery, founded in 313, was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site List in 2014. It is assumed that 10 bishops graduated from the Mor Yaʿqub Monastery between 810 and 925 and it functioned until the 18th century.

The Mor Dimet Monastery is also a historical building referred to in documents as early as the 11th century.

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