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Assyrians to Regain Monastery's Land As Part of Erdogan's Democratization Package

The land of the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery will be returned to the Syriac [Assyrian] community in Turkey as part of the "democratization package" announced by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today, while the package fell short of meeting the expectations that the Halki Seminary could be reopened.

"The land of the Mor Gabriel Monastery will return to the monastery's foundation," Erdoğan promised today, while declaring a wide range of reforms on democracy.

"In fact, our government has shown a great sensitivity in this issue throughout the [Turkish] Republic's history and has made serious efforts in return for such rights. We have taken sincere steps with regulations we made about the removal of such injustices in 2003, 2008 and 2011 and we received concrete results. We have returned more than 250 [properties], costing more around 2.5 billion Turkish Liras to the original owners," said Erdoğan. Erdoğan also said that they would continue to return the properties of minorities without occasioning the suffering of others.

Mor Gabriel is a 1,700-year-old monastery located in Mardin's Midyat district. In 2008, the Forestry Ministry, the Land Registry Office and the villages of Yayvantepe, Çandarlı and Eğlence sued the monastery for allegedly occupying their fields. The court recognized the monastery as an "occupier," after which the case was brought to the ECHR.

The package, announced by Erdoğan today, however, lacked any development about the reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox seminary on Istanbul's Heyebeliada Island, which has been an ongoing point of debate for years.

The reopening of the school has been postponed due to a lack of clarity over its status, as well as the principle of reciprocity with Greece, which has refused to allow Turkish minorities to elect their own religious officials.

On Sept. 12, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said that they would take the necessary steps for the reopening of the Halki Seminary "when certain local and international conditions are constituted." He also gave signals of solving the Mor Gabriel Monastery issue in the same speech. "We have to apply the law on the matter but an alternative formula could resolve the problem [of Mor Gabriel monastery]," Arınç said.

Editor's note: click here for complete coverage of the St. Gabriel Monastery case.


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