Midyat -- The Syriacs [Assyrians] in southeast Turkey are celebrating Easter, with high hopes for the future. There are approximately 2,000 Syriacs left in the hilly region around Mardin and Midyat in southeast Turkey, bound in by the Tigris to the north and east, and by the Syrian border to the south. Most villages of Tur Abdin are desolate and decayed. Approximately, 300 to 400,000 Syriacs from Turkey live in Europe.
The area is called Tur Abdin in the Syriac language (Aramaic). It is an ethnic and religious mosaic where four languages (Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac) are spoken.
Syriacs are Christians whose gospels are written in Aramaic.
Troubled recent history
During the government's efforts to flush out the PKK from the area in the 1980s and 90s, many Syriacs were caught in the crossfire and forced to abandon their villages, seeking a better life in Europe and the United States. Many suffered direct intimidation and outright violence from Kurds who wanted to occupy their homes, they claim. Kurdish village guards, fighting alongside government forces against the PKK, were granted many abandoned houses, they say.
In 2004, under pressure from the European Union, Turkey conceded that the village of Sare should be vacated for returning Syriacs.
However, a Syriac businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that a further 70,000 euro liquidation from the owners had been demanded by the "lodgers." Around fifty killings up to this day in the region remain unsolved, he claimed. Also, Syriacs who have lost their Turkish citizenship cannot register their land. "The Kurds have progressed immensely in the last ten years," he added.
Some "Diaspora" Syriacs who made their fortunes abroad (mostly Sweden, Germany and Switzerland) have started returning. As conditions in the area improve, they are engaging in extensive building and restoration and re-settlement of abandoned villages.
The Syriac church has had a key role in maintaining the culture and language, which survives in the liturgy and is close to the spoken language (in Turkish, S