Turkey Encourages Assyrian Christians to Return under EU Pressure

Last month, the European Union agreed to hold future entry talks with Turkey. As a predominately Muslim country, Turkey is being requested to reinforce religious freedom and human rights as a condition of entering the EU. According to the Associated Press, under the pressure of the EU, Turkey has invited the ancient Turkish Christian community to return to the country.

Dating back to the time of World War I, Assyrian civilians lived in their ancestral homeland in South-East Turkey. Geographically, the region is very close to the ancient "Nineveh". According to the Bible, Jonah was sent by God to this city to proclaim the message of God, later all the Ninevites immediately repented and turned to Him. Therefore, Assyrians began adopting Christianity in the first century AD, 600 years before the region was conquered by Arab Muslims.

As the Assyrian Christians had defied the Turkish authorities and had always maintained their independence, a programme of Massacres and exiles was carried out in 1915. Millions of Assyrian children, men and women were tortured and massacred or expelled from their homes by the Muslim Turks and Kurds for being Christian.

Just a few years ago, the tiny Assyrian Christian community in southeastern Turkey was caught in the middle of fighting between Turkish troops and Kurdish rebels. The Assyrians are mostly neutral between the government and the Kurdish rebels, but neutrality has made others suspicious of them.

Many Assyrian Christians have became unemployed, therefore many of them emigrate to Germany, Switzerland and other European countries. The number of Christians in the region has reduced to around 4,000 at most. In Haberli, where around 75 families lived 30 years ago, nowadays only about 20 families remain.

An EU report in October said "very few" Assyrians have returned due to harassment by pro-government Kurdish militiamen and paramilitary police.

According to the Associated Press, a sign at the entrance to Haberli for Assyrian Christian proclaims that "The motherland is a whole and cannot be divided - a tacit warning to Kurdish rebels and anyone else seeking separate status."

Turkey, which faces European pressure to return displaced villagers to the region and to grant more rights to minorities, is encouraging thousands of Assyrians to come back, and dozens have returned, Assyrians say. Governor Osman Gunes' visit to Assyrian towns and monasteries underlined the new spirit.