Church confiscations threaten extinction of ancient Christian community in Turkey

One of the world's oldest Christian communities is under threat with fears for its survival – and a land dispute in Turkey has underlined its vulnerability.

Authorities have seized around 50 properties from the Syriac Orthodox Church, claiming their ownership deeds have expired.

ReutersSyriac Christians attend mass at the Mort Shmuni Syriac Orthodox church in the Syrian town of Midyat.

Two of the properties are functioning monasteries 1,500 years old, according to Kuryakos Ergun, chair of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, which is appealing against the confiscation.

He said the loss of these buildings threatened the existence of Turkey's oldest indigenous culture.

'Our churches and monasteries are what root Syriacs in these lands; our existence relies on them. They are our history and what sustains our culture,' he said according to Al-Monitor.

'While the country should be protecting this heritage, we instead see our culture is at risk.'

Syriac Christians, also known as Assyrians, date back to the ancient Mesopotamian empire as far back as 3,500BC. Many still speak Aramaic, the language Christ spoke, and their homeland of Tur Abdin is on a plateau between the Tigris and Euphrates river in south-east Turkey.

The area is dotted with monasteries which until now have been listed as belonging to the villages where Syriacs live.

But as these small outlets have been overtaken by the municipality of the city of Mardin, in 2012 their legal status dissolved.

Erol Dora, who is a Syriac and one of a handful of Christian lawmakers in the Turkish parliament, represents Mardin as a deputy in the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party.

He said: 'Turkey must adopt policies that protect citizens of different faiths. This has to be part of efforts to comply with modern democratic principles and rule of law.'

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