(AINA) -- On the invitation of the Austrian section of the Assyrian Democratic Organization, Erol Dora, member of the Turkish Parliament, visited Vienna. The program included talks with the Austrian media, a meeting with the President of the Pro-Oriente Organisation, a visit to the Austrian parliament and press conference followed by a lecture on the topic of Minority Rights in Turkey. The focus of the lecture was Turkey's need for freedom of expression without any restrictions, full religious freedom and recognition of minority rights.
The following article was published in www.kathweb.at, a German Catholic website.
Translated from German by Miryam Athra Abraham.
Vienna -- "We support the EU membership of Turkey, because we are committed to a value system based on freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. All criteria for the accession must be fully met by Turkey," said Erol Dora, the first Assyrian Christian member of the Turkish Parliament, during his visit in Vienna. Mr. Dora, 48 years old, is a lawyer and the first Christian since the 1950s to become a member of the National Assembly in Ankara.
Dora was invited to Vienna by the Austrian chapter of the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO), where he gave a lecture on Human rights of minorities in Turkey, and met with Austrian parliamentarians as well as the President of Pro-Oriente, Hans Marte.
Dora is member of the BDP (Baris ve Demokrasi Partisi - Peace and Democracy Party). His election in June of last year was largely made possible through Kurdish votes. According to Dora, the Kurdish problem can not be solved by force, but through dialogue and negotiations. "I do not want any mother crying in Turkey because her son is killed in armed clashes."
The Multi-Religious Structure of Turkey
Mr. Dora, who speaks Assyrian (Aramaic), Armenian, Turkish, and Kurdish, emphasized the existing multiethnic and multi-religious structure of Turkey. Dora said that the presence of minorities must be recognized and that he stands for freedom of speech without restrictions, for full religious freedom and the right of members of minorities to use their language in public and especially at school. Of great importance is also the independence of the judiciary, he said.
Erol Dora places great hopes on the currently ongoing process of developing a new Turkish constitution. This "civilian" constitution should be based on human rights and assume constitutional patriotism instead of narrow nationalism. Dora emphasized that it is a positive sign that the Constitutional Committee is composed equally of three members from each of the four parties of the parliament and that minorities and representatives of civil society are consulted. Currently, there is a comprehensive process of change under way in Turkey, but there remains much to be done.
Problems With Religious Freedom
In the field of religious freedom, among others, the deputy pleaded for the abolition of compulsory Islamic-Sunni religious classes, which students of other denominations must join, too. Also the expropriated land and property owned by Christian religious foundations (Vakiflar) must be returned. With regards to the return process of the properties, there are still "problems in the administration." The root of the conflict regarding the world-famous Syrian Orthodox monastery St. Gabriel is the lack of a reliable land register (full coverage of the St. Gabriel case).
Dora also pointed to the problems of the Alevis, whose sacred meeting rooms (so-called cem) are not recognized by the Turkish authorities as places of worship. The unequal treatment of confessions by the state (the Islamic-Sunni clergy are paid by the state) has to stop; the diyanet (currently a national governing body for the interests of the Islamic-Sunni worship across the country) should be transformed into a cultural office that deals with the management of the relations between state and religious denominations.
Regarding the controversial Turkish history schoolbooks for classes at high schools (lise), where Christian minorities are vilified (AINA 10-2-2011), Dora said that he gave a well received press conference at the parliament in Ankara late December. The Minister of Education, pointing to the fact that the books were approved "prior his time", promised that the textbooks will be revised thoroughly by the beginning of the school year 2012/13.
First Christian People
In his lecture, Erol Dora recalled the glorious history and the outstanding cultural achievements of the Christian Assyrians forgotten in the West. They were the first people that had accepted Christianity as a whole, starting from the Principality of Edessa/Urfa. Today the nation is split in various Christian denominations - Syrian Orthodox Church, Syrian Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, Apostolic Church of the East - and scattered over various states: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled Iraq meanwhile; even in Syria there is a "risk" for minorities. For nearly 50 years there has been a sizable Assyrian migration in Europe, though every human has the right to live in his original homeland.
The chairman of the Austrian ADO section and the District Council of Brigittenauer, Aslan Ergen recalled that last year Turkey promised to return land and real estate, which had been seized from the Christian foundations in 1936, though the process is very slow. In addition, one must remember that in the years 1914 to 1924, during the murder and expulsion of large Christian population groups (Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks), immense possessions were confiscated and one must speak about it, said Ergen. Even still in the sixties up to the eighties and in context of the clashes between the military regime and the Kurds, massive pressure has been exercised on the Assyrian Christians in Tur Abdin, which did not fit into the concept with their Christian religion. The previously large and homogenous ethnic group amounting up to 200,000 is now reduced dramatically.
In the various European countries, Turkey demands Turkish school education for the children of immigrants, which he is supporter of, said Ergen. However, it must be possible in Turkey as well to educate children of members of minorities in their mother tongue.