CHRISTIANITY, SYRIACS, AND PERSECUTION

Turkey’s Syriacs Face Pressure Amid Local Bigotry and Opportunism

After a brief period of tranquility, the last remnants of Syriacs face new hardships in southeastern Turkey. This time local feuds and petty opportunism drive the pressure against them.

Abdullah Ayasun
5 min readJul 7, 2020

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Syriac priest Sefer Aho Bilecen was briefly detained by Turkish military police in January.

The political modernity has shattered the traditional components of the social fabric in Anatolia; it tore apart various ethnic, religious and social sub-identities for the achievement of the sacred cause of nation-building launched by the founding fathers of the Republic. The Turkification of the entire nation, with little regard for the expression of different identities, was never without controversy and without fuss. As the century-old Kurdish conflict and the simmering Alevi question attest, Turkey’s ethnically-designed nation-building objective proved to be a costly blunder with lingering ramifications for today’s elusive social peace and political stability.

As Karen Barkey judiciously analyzes in an article, the hardly-maintained codes of inter-communal peace within the bounds of the Ottoman imperial social structure have become the biggest victim of this modernization program marked by militant secularism and ethnocentric nationalism that placed Turkishness at the very heart of national identity. Consequently, Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities still bear the implications of an unfinished revolution in this body politic ostensibly defined as a democratic republic, but hardly functions as such in reality. A recent wave of pressure on Turkey’s already-shrinking Syriac (Assyrian) community is a grim reminder about the unresolved nature of this incomplete leap forward to modernity. It is a sorry tale about the fraying nexus between the state and its Christian minorities.

Mardin, once a blossoming home to a wide array of ethnic and religious sub-identities, suffers a pervasive culture of intolerance recently. The Syriac community, after a brief period of tranquillity and hard-won reconciliation, falls victim to the emergence of locally-generated bigotry and hatred. Since last year, pressure from locals has mounted over Syriac villages. A Syriac priest (Sefer Aho Bilecen)…

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Abdullah Ayasun

Boston-based journalist and writer. Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. 2023 WHCA Scholar. On art, culture, politics and everything in between. X: @abyasun