Opinion Editorial
Turkey Should Give More Rights for Assyrians
By Pieter Omtzigt
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(AINA) -- Last week the council of Europe debated the long awaited report by Mr. Hunault from France on religious minorities in Turkey and Greece.

Since the treaty of Lausanne, both countries have considered their minorities as foreigners and treated them as second class citizens. Yet these minorities have often been in those countries for centuries or millennia. For instance the journeys of St. Paul show that in the era of Jesus Jews were already present in the present territory of Turkey and Christians were present there shortly afterwards.

For the parliamentary assembly of the council of Europe the difference in treatment on this basis is unacceptable and that was a clear message in the report.

I was spokesman on behalf of the largest political group, the European Peoples Party. In my speech I brought attention to the Assyrian (also known as Chaldean and Syriac) people, who are not mentioned in the treaty of Lausanne, for St. Gabriel Monastery and other monasteries whose grounds are being taken by the state and Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, yet forbidden in religious education.

To the fury of the Turkish delegation (also a founding Member of the Council of Europe), the resolution was toughened on three points:

  • Turkey should stop claiming grounds from monasteries like Mor Gabriel.
  • The Syriac minority should have the rights of the treaty of Lausanne, most importantly the right to teach in Aramaic
  • The Turkish and Greek government should react to all the recommendations in the report by February 2011.

Turkish opposition against these proposals was tough. Already questions like a full investigation into the Hrant Drink murder, the reopening of the Greek Orthodox seminary, rights for the Ecumenical patriarch and other demands were on the table.

Including these crucial demands for the Assyrian community and the obligation of both governments to report back on these issues means that Turkey has got real homework to do on the protection of minorities in its own country.

It is also a big step forwards for the recognition of the Assyrian community and their rights, as this report was approved by MPs from 47 Member States, including Turkey. It sends a strong signal to Turkey on the protection of its own minorities, which I believe in the end is in the interest of Turkey and its citizens.


Debate: http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=/Documents/Records/2010/E/1001271500E.htm

Resolution (read 16, 18 and 19): http://assembly.coe.int/Mainf.asp?link=/Documents/AdoptedText/ta10/ERES1704.htm

Homework for Turkey: http://www.bianet.org/english/minorities/119727-turkeys-homework-on-minority-rights

Pieter Omtzigt is member of parliament for the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party in the Netherlands.

Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.
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