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ICC Note: While Turkey’s Syriac Christians in Mardin have welcomed the return of over 50 title deeds, their challenges are not over. Turkey heavily monitors and restricts the activities of churches, forcing them to operate within a legal gray area. For those churches in Mardin, already an extremely violate area, these challenges are expected to continue and worsen with time.

06/04/2018 Turkey (World Watch Monitor) –   Syriac Orthodox Christians have welcomed the Turkish government’s return of 55 title deeds, representing nearly half of their ancient church properties in southeast Turkey, which had been confiscated by the state in recent years.

Fifty of the official property deeds were delivered to the Syriacs’ 4th century Mor Gabriel Monastery near Midyat, in Mardin province, on 22 May. The disputed documents were received in person by Archbishop Timotheos Samuel Aktaş, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Tur Abdin, and Kuryakos Ergün, chairman of the Mor Gabriel Foundation. An additional five title deeds were returned to another Syriac Christian foundation in Mardin.

The turnover of Syriac community deeds resulted from the 27 March passage of an omnibus bill in the Turkish Parliament. The newly amended measures signed into law by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan authorised the return of these historic Syriac properties, many predating Ottoman times, to their original owners.

“This is the first time our property deeds have been returned,” Ergün told Cumhuriyet newspaper on 27 May, noting that the new judicial amendments had considerably reduced property ownership problems of southeast Turkey’s Syriac community.

“These returned deeds have created great joy here among the Syriac Christians in Mardin and those who live abroad,” the foundation chairman told the daily. “At the same time, this also means the return of our minority rights, as birthed in the Lausanne Treaty,” Ergün stressed.

But although he declared the legal change was “of great significance to us”, he also clarified to Doğan news agency: “We still have a legal dispute over ownership of lands belonging to the community.” The recovery of various Syriac monasteries, village churches, and cemeteries, along with some 70 vineyards, gardens and lands attached to them, is still pending in the local courts.

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