Spreading title deeds on a coffee table, leaders of the Syriac Christian community in southeastern Turkey enthusiastically spoke about how they settled a controversial issue regarding the return of their properties. In 2014, ownership of churches, monasteries and cemeteries belonging to the ancient community were transferred to the state after Mardin, the southeastern city where they are located, was designated as the "greater city municipality." The community fought for their return but faced bureaucratic red-tape and a lengthy legal process. Finally, they were formally handed title deeds yesterday, crediting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for helping them to settle the issue.
Properties were returned to the Foundation of Mor Gabriel Monastery that represents the small community concentrated mainly in Mardin. Koryakos Ergün, head of the foundation, thanked President Erdoğan and other officials for resolving the issue that saw properties changing hands between state-run agencies. An amendment to regulations paved the way for the return of the properties.
Ergün said the issue stemmed from a rejection of the first appeal by the foundation to a local authority overseeing the status of the properties, citing regulations in force that changes ownership of assets belonging to local administrations. Churches and other properties were originally registered as assets of village administrations that were converted into neighborhood after the status change. "We still have a legal dispute over ownership of lands belonging to the community but the new regulation changing the status and enabling the return of properties is of great significance for us. The state and the president deserves appreciation for this approach," Ergün told Doğan News Agency.
His joy can be understandable after years of state policies that neglected and sometimes downright suppressed the rights of minorities, especially non-Muslims. After the Justice and Development (AK) Party came to power 15 years ago, it brought landmark changes for those communities, especially in terms of returning their properties seized by the state.
A cemetery in Mardin belonging to the community was already returned to its rightful owners. There are 25,000 Syriac Christians in Turkey, 18,000 of whom live in Istanbul.
Members of one of the oldest Christian denominations, Syriac Christians use a language related to the ancient Aramaic of Jesus Christ in their liturgy.