|05/14/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) –International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on May 11, 2021, it was discovered that Marta Shimoni Church in Turkey’s village of Mehr was attacked and desecrated by unknown persons. This is the same village where the elderly parents of a Chaldean Catholic priest were kidnapped last year. The wife, Simoni Diril, was later found deceased. Her husband, Hormoz Diril, remains missing.
Marta Shimoni is a cave church built into the mountains, and thus cannot be destroyed in the same way as other churches. Video footage obtained by ICC shows that the destruction was primarily against the Christian items and relics inside the church. Crosses, pictures of Jesus, and rosaries were strewn across the path leading away from the mountain church’s entrance.
The village of Mehr was primarily Chaldean Christian before surrounding conflict forced its evacuation in the early the 1990s. Eleven years ago, the Diril couple had returned to the village, despite the dangers, in an attempt to rebuild the Christian presence. They were the first to return, and often celebrated mass at Marta Shimoni. The church, who is named after a local Christian martyred for her faith, stands as a historic reminder of the village’s Christian past. Sadly, Simoni Diril was found deceased on March 20, 2020, two months after her kidnapping. The fate of Hormoz Diril is unknown and the search continues.
Attorney Orhan Kemal Cengiz shared with ICC, “As the lawyer for Diril family, my main concern for the time being is to get the prosecutor to open a case against the perpetrators in the abduction of the Diril couple, which ended with the murder of Mrs. Diril. Mr. Diril is still missing. I have delivered more than a dozen petitions to the prosecutor so far, to urge him to look at the matter from different angles, as well as calling him to deliver his indictment as soon as possible.”
“Unfortunately, I could not have any positive result yet. I believe there is a strong correlation between the lack of indictment in this case and the recent attack against the chapel in the village in which the Diril couple went missing. The prosecutor’s refusal to introduce an indictment against the perpetrators emboldens the perpetrators and the people behind them.”
He continues, “I will urge the prosecutor to make a thorough investigation into the last attack on the church as well as to look into possible links between this attack and the kidnapping of the Diril couple. It is obvious, if the impunity in the case of the abduction and killing of the Diril couple continues, more attacks would follow.”
The disappearance of the Diril couple was mentioned both in the 2021 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and the more recently released 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom from the US Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
An immediate family member of the Diril couple shared with ICC, “First of all, I strongly condemn this heinous attack on our church. This attack does not fit into humanity or any belief. It is obvious that the people who did this are very uncomfortable with our presence on our lands and with our beliefs.”
“This assault of our presence in the village is an indication that somebody is disturbed, and they do not want us here. What worries us the most is that it is a continuation of the persecution of my parents in January last year. We even suspect it was linked to the murder and disappearance of my parents.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, “We are concerned about this desecration against Marta Shimoni and how this is part of a continued pattern of intimidation and threats against the Christian presence in Mehr. Over a year has passed since the kidnapping of the Diril couple and murder of Simoni. There has been no justice. And now their church is attacked. These cases are intertwined. If there is no accountability for these crimes, how can Christians with confidence return home to Mehr?”
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