Turkey persists in the arbitrary detainment of a Syriac priest and two other Christians, both of whom were village headmen, after conducting a military operation in the southeast, International Christian Concern reports.
On January 9, 2020, Turkey’s anti-terror branch arrested three Syriac Christians in a raid and transferred them to the city of Mardin, where they remain unreachable with no access to a lawyer. The exact nature of their official charges is not yet known.
The names of the affected Christians are: Father Sefer (Aho) Bileçen from the Monastery of Mar Yaqoub al-Suruji, Musa Tash Takin from the village of Sidri, and Youssef Yar from the village of Üçköy.
The exact reason of their arrest remains unknown, but local media reports that they were detained after Turkey’s anti-terror branch received an anonymous tip that the three Christians had shared food with a member of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The Assyrian Associations Foundation says that this arrest is “a second case of Pastor Brunson,” a reference to an American pastor arbitrarily detained for two years in Turkey for alleged PKK connections.
A statement by the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights expressed their “full solidarity with the three Christian detainees. We hold the Turkish authorities fully legal [responsible] for their physical integrity, and we demand that they release them immediately and without any delay.”
“These arrests have left the 3,000 remaining Christians of the Syriac-Orthodox faith and the Assyrian-Syriac ethnicity in a state of fear and confusion,” stated A Demand For Action. “This kind of behavior by the Turkish authorities is the reason why the vast majority of Christians of Tur Abdin have left the region, and live in scattered diasporas.
The Syriac Union President, Yuhanna Aktas, told Hristiyan Haber that they “could not get any information about those detained… Why can’t we make sense of a priest who was detained?”
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, shared with ICC:
“Assyrians have for centuries been targeted and massacred for their ethnicity and religion. Although they have been left all alone by the world powers, they have been so resiliently trying to hold on to their ancient homeland. And they need the voice and support of faithful Christians and all other human rights advocates more than ever now.”
“Assyrians have been exposed to physical attacks, murders, injuries, seizures through violence, harassment, intimidation, threats, kidnappings, and illegal confiscations of their properties mostly by the Kurds and other Muslims in the region,” Bulut added.
“The recent detention of the three Assyrians might also be due to the continued conflicts between the PKK and the Turkish military. Unfortunately, Assyrians have been stuck between and terribly affected by the unending fights between these two hostile groups.”
The PKK is a designated terrorist group that operates in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq (the PKK operates in northern Syria under a different name). This area is also the homeland of Assyrian Christians, such as the three arrested. The conflict between Turkey and the PKK often puts Christians in a difficult position.
Few are likely to refuse a request from an armed group for food, which makes it difficult for local Christians if they are approached by the PKK. If sharing food is indeed the reason for the three’s detainment, they are not the first Christians to be caught between the ongoing conflict between the Kurds and Turkey.
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said: “Turkey’s anti-terror activities have long trampled on human rights, including religious freedom. Unfortunately, this latest incident once again puts Turkey’s police state tactics on full display and is part of an ongoing trend demonstrating institutional hostility toward the nation’s Christian community.
We urge Turkey for transparency regarding this incident. Allow these Christians legal representation, communicate their status with their communities, and publicly state the reason why they were arrested.”