ANKARA - A Syriac Christian monastery in the Eastern Province of Mardin lost its legal battle Wednesday to overturn a Forestry Department decision to claim part of its land, with community representatives vowing to file an appeal.
The boundaries around Mor Gabriel, located in the Midyat region, and its surrounding villages were redrawn last year as part of an effort to update the land registry. The foundation operating the monastery petitioned the court to have the new boundaries re-examined, saying that they take large plots of land on which the monastery has been paying tax since 1938 and turn them over to the villages.
Villagers also applied to the court, asking for the monastery wall to be pulled down and accusing the foundation operating the monastery of taking land they need for their cattle.
On May 22, another court ruled in favor of Mor Gabriel over 110 hectares of land claimed by neighboring villages.But in Wednesday's ruling, the Midyat court decided a 33.6-hectare parcel of land claimed by the monastery within and outside of the building's walls belongs to the Treasury. Yılmaz Kerimo, a Swedish deputy of Syriac origin who was present at the court session, said they would take the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara and that if that court approves the lower court's verdict, they would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
"The monastery does not belong to the Syriac community. It belongs to Turkey. Syriacs are part of Turkey. The land belongs to the foundation and the foundation belongs to Turkey," Kerimo said. "Even though Turkey should have sided with the monastery on this matter, it hasn't. I don't understand." Monastery lawyer Rudi Sümer noted that the monastery has not utilized all the judicial means open to it, but agreed that if they fail to get a favorable verdict from the top appeals court, they will go to the European court. Syriac community representatives from Germany, Sweden, Lebanon and Syria were also present at the court session. Syriacs are one of the oldest communities in Turkey and still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Approximately 25,000 Syriacs live in Turkey, with around 3,000 living near the monastery.