Diyarbakir, Turkey -- Following the referendum banning minarets in Switzerland, 3 persons visiting the 1,750 year old Assyrian [also known as Chaldean and Syriac] Church of Virgin Mary in Diyarbakir allegedly threatened priest Yusuf Akbulut by saying "Switzerland is banning minarets and we will ban bell towers. You will demolish the bell tower."
Fr. Akbulut informed the police that 3 persons visited the church, located in the Alipasa neighborhood of Sur District, last Friday and demanded the demolition of the bell towers by next Friday. Fr. Akbulut, the priest of the church whose internal and external security is being provided by the police, made the following statement:
"Last Friday, on the 4th of this month, my church and I were threatened. 3 persons in their 40ties visited the church at 14:00. They knocked on the door of my house inside the church and asked me to come outside. In the courtyard of the church, these 3 persons that I do not know asked me if the church had a bell tower. When I told them that it did, they said, 'you will demolish this bell tower. Switzerland is banning minarets and we will ban bell towers. You will demolish this bell tower by next Friday.' When I told them that this was a historic church with an ancient bell tower and that the foundations (directorate) and the State would react, they said for the second time 'go and complain to whoever you want. This bell tower will not remain here, we will take the necessary action' and left. Then I filed a complaint with the police. Now the police are seeking the 3 persons who threatened me by checking the camera records."
Noting that he will not demolish the 600 year old church bell, Fr. Akbulut stated that the minaret ban in Switzerland did not have anything to do with him and added:
"We Assyrians have been living in these territories for 6-7 thousand years. We have a deep-rooted history. Who can dare demolish this bell tower by asserting the minaret ban in Switzerland as a pretext? We do not approve of the minaret ban. Switzerland should let them construct minarets in mosques. Everyone has the right to worship freely. We all pray to God."
Noting that five families reside in the church and nearly ten other Christian families in the city centre of Diyarbakir, Fr. Akbulut said, "As the Assyrian community, for centuries we led a peaceful life with the other people residing on these territories. We never did any harm to anyone. It is very wrong to hold us accountable for the minaret ban in Switzerland."
By Ramazan Yavuz and Serdar Sunar
DHA News Agency
Translated from Turkish by AINA.