Swiss Parliament Adopts Motion in Support of Assyrian Monastery
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(AINA) -- The Federal Council of Switzerland has adopted a motion in support of the legally embattled St. Gabriel Assyrian Monastery in Turkey. The motion states "The Federal Council is to be asked to intervene with the Turkish government to ensure that the ownership of the Syriac Monasteries in southeast of Turkey continue to be guaranteed, and that the minority rights of Assyrians is respected according to the Copenhagen criteria."

The Monastery of St. Gabriel was founded in 397 A.D. and is a great and historically important Christian symbol in the middle of Turkey; it is for the Syriac-orthodox faith what St. Peter's in Rome is for the Catholics.

The legal issues are:

  1. Boundary Lines Case -- This Court appeal proceeding was initiated by the Monastery against the villages of Yayvantape and Eglence and dealt with determining the boundary lines between the Monastery and the villages.
  2. Forestry Land Case 1 -- This Court appeal proceeding was initiated by the Monastery against the Forestry Department in order to restore Monastery land located in, and outside, the outer wall of the Monastery.
  3. State Treasury Land Case -- This Court proceeding was initiated by the State Treasury Department against the Monastery. This case relates to 12 parcels of land, inside and outside the outer wall of the Monastery, being confiscated by the State Treasury.
  4. Forestry Land Case 2 -- This Court proceeding involves the State making an allegation against the Monastery for violation of the Forestry law. The State is alleging that the Monastery has intentionally violated the Forestry law by building the outer wall around the Monastery.

The Monastery won its first legal (Boundary Lines Case) battle and lost a second one (Forestry Land Case 2). The case is still in the courts.

Click here for complete coverage of the St. Gabriel Monastery case.

Here's the transcript of the Federal Council of Switzerland session:

Translation by Miryam and Abdulmesih BarAbraham

Federal Council of Switzerland
2nd Meeting, Session on November 24, 2009
Motion APK-NR (09.2004).
Syriac Monasteries in Turkey.
Recognition of Minority Rights of Syriacs

Reymond André (V, GE), for the Commission: I want to deal with the support of the Syrian Orthodox monastery St.-Gabriel in Tur Abdin in Turkey.

The European Parliament examines Tukey's progress with regards of freedom of religion and the guaranties, which it concedes to the ancient Christian community.

Considering the Syriac Orthodox monastery in Tur Abdin, the European Parliament regrets the intended expropriation and the charges pressed against the representatives of the monastery. Turkey has never constituted a judicial framework in accordance with the jurisdiction of the European Court of human rights regarding the liberty of all religious communities. The decisions of the supreme Turkish authority were reversed and the judgment of expropriation was annulled. Turkey can resort to the European Court of human rights, but this (way) seems improbable since normally it is criticized for inappropriate regulations.

Sending a Swiss delegation on location doesn't seem necessary, since the attendance of the European diplomatic association is a sufficiently efficient guaranty. The Court has decided in favor of the monastery and against the Turkish state. It is true that the area around the monastery is hardly cultivatable. But for the expropriation of the forest areas belonging to the monastery, however, the Turkish state has won. The representatives of the monastery have naturally appealed against the judgment.

Before being able to take legal action before the European Court of human rights, the monastery has to call on all national authorities, which need to speak out.

Our committee has had to comment on two proposals which are contrary to one another. The proposition Sommaruga Carlo to comply with the petition and secondly, the proposition Schlüer to file a motion of the committee to request of the Federal Council to intervene to the Turkish government, so that it, firstly, respects the rights of ownership of the Syriac monasteries in the South-East of Turkey, and that it, secondly, accepts the rights of the Syriac minority according to the criteria of Copenhagen.

The committee has decided, with 12 votes against 9 and with 1 abstention to support the proposition Schlüer and I encourage you to accept the proposal of the committee.

Wehrli Reto (CEg, SZ), for the Commission: What does the motion of the Commission requires? The Federal Council is to be asked to intervene with the Turkish government to ensure that the ownership of the Syriac Monasteries in southeast of Turkey continue to be guaranteed, and that the minority rights of Assyrians is respected according to the Copenhagen criteria. What is context in which the demands of this motion are to be viewed? We have had this year and last year a number of political activities that deal with the fate of Christian minorities in Turkey, their symbols and their property rights.

Two issues were at the forefront: First, the fate of Syriac (so-called Suryoye) people generally is taken into view. "Suryoyo" is the native Syriac self-designation for members of the Syriac Church of West and East Syrian tradition. By this, Arameans, Assyrians, but also Chaldeans are known. The name of the modern state of Syria derives from Assyria as the ancient name of the region. The Syriac people were in the course of the past decades and centuries victims of pogroms from the hands of Kurds, the Turkish, Iranian or Iraqi military. It is assumed that up to half a million Syriacs have been driven from their homes and killed. We are dealing with abuse, the continued killing and other human rights violations, perpetrated mainly because of the religion of the victims.

In the following, the attention especially geared toward the fate of the monastery of Mor Gabriel. This is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. It is in the Tur Abdin, a mountainous region at the headwaters of the Tigris River in Turkey. Still, it is still one of the most important monasteries of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and the seat of the metropolitans of the Tur Abdin.

The monastery being a spiritual and cultural centre is massively pressured by the heads of the adjacent Muslim villages, including by means of continued by-fence-breaking boundary disputes. The Muslim village chief aim is to make it impossible for the monastery to perform its central role as a reference point of the Assyrian Diaspora. Concretely, property rights, minority rights and religious freedom are threatened, if not already injured. Mid-December 2008 a lawsuit has commenced against the convent, based on accusations of three Kurdish neighbouring village chiefs, claiming that the monastery has more land than the faithful need for prayer. Turkish officials had previously declared that a majority of the estates of the monastery is designated as state-owned forest land.

In June this year, the monastery of Mor Gabriel has been unsuccessful in the land dispute, at least temporarily. Representatives of the monastery stated that if necessary, they will bring up their complains against the decree to the European Court of Human Rights. Several European countries have raised their voice for the protection of the monastery. The question now is whether Switzerland is doing something, and if so, what.

How did the Federal Assembly and the National Council dealt with this issue? On December 9th, 2009 a petition was submitted to our Parliament by the Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, where the following was requested:

  1. Respecting property rights of the monastery Mor Gabriel;
  2. Recognition of minority rights of Assyrians (Suryoye) according to the Copenhagen criteria by Turkey;
  3. Dispatch of a parliamentary delegation to the observe court trial.

The APK of Council of States has not given any result to the petition in its meeting of March 21, 2009. The Council of States on June 11, 2009 has adopted this attitude. In context of the Question Time to our Council in March 2009 two questions on the topic were raised. Finally, the APK of the National Council dealt with the case on August 25, 2009. At the end of the debate the request of the Commission to submit a motion prevailed with 12 votes to 9, with 1 abstention, over which we have to take decision. With the motion, the Federal Council should be mandated to intervene with the Turkish government to ensure that the ownership of the Syriac monasteries in the southeast of Turkey continue to be guaranteed, and that minority rights are recognized in accordance with the Copenhagen criteria.

The Commission's motion is its content is a reduction of the mentioned petition. A minority of APK argued among other aspects, that the presence of European diplomats on the ground make corresponding Swiss efforts obsolete. They did not want to deny the problems of the Christian minority in Turkey, but saw the required action as requested by the motion from Switzerland in conflict with its institutional processes. The majority however regards right to life, culture, and especially religious freedom, and liberty of property of the Christian minority are at risk in a manner and to such an extent to justify the action of our country.

On behalf of the Commission, I request you to join the majority and thus make possible a wider contribution to protect the Christian minority in Turkey.

Calmy- Rey Micheline, Federal adviser: Within the framework of its foreign policy, Switzerland attaches great importance to the protection of the rights of minorities and the fundamental rights of being human. To support and protect freedom of religion, but also to prevent any form religious intolerance, Switzerland actively participates in the activities of competent authorities in the UN and the OSCE. Within this framework, we are engaged in enhancing a respectful dialogue between cultures and religions with the concern of supporting communication and mutual respect. This attention and commitment applies for the case of the Syriac minority in Turkey, as well as for that of the other minorities which live in this country. The very good political dialogue Switzerland and Turkey are holding additionally offers the possibility to discuss all kinds of questions in a very open way, including those alluding to human rights and the rights of minorities.

The proposition of the Federal Council aimed at rejecting the proposal explains itself through the fact that Switzerland is by now already actively committed at the Turk government. Thus, we try to take care that the independence of the Turk judicial system is respected, as well as we expect from Turkey to respect our own judicial system. As a matter of course, the federal department of foreign affairs will continue to follow this affair up, as it has done until today.

For the motion: 101
Against the motion: 54

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