Syriac monk in Turkey jailed on terror charges

Opposition lawmaker Tuma Celik, from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, is the only Syriac lawmaker in the Turkish parliament. (Photo/Supplied)
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Updated 12 January 2020

Syriac monk in Turkey jailed on terror charges

  • Hundreds of Syriacs, an ancient Christian population with Aramaic as their mother tongue, have left Turkey since the 1990s to Europe

JEDDAH: A Turkish court has jailed a Syriac monk for helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’s Party (PKK).

Aho Sefer Belican led a community in the Mor Yakup Monastery in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin, the Syriacs’ ancient homeland. Two other Syriacs were also detained on Jan. 9 over allegations that the three of them provided food and water to a PKK member.

The PKK, which has waged an insurgency for independence in the country’s southeast for more than three decades, is deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

David Vergili, a Syriac activist who is also a close friend of Belican’s, said the monk was a humble person who was much admired by his circle and outsiders.

“He was an ascetic for years, living in seclusion from society for religious reasons,” Vergili told Arab News. “He was also actively working for the restoration works of the monastery in a bid to further attract Turkish and foreign visitors. It is very sad and unexpected news to hear that he is imprisoned. Currently all Syriacs around the world talk only about one thing — the imprisonment of their monk.”

Opposition lawmaker Tuma Celik, from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, called on authorities to reverse the decision and said the accusation was based on a single statement in an investigation dossier that was opened two years ago. Hundreds of Syriacs, an ancient Christian population with Aramaic as their mother tongue, have left Turkey since the 1990s to Europe over security and restrictions on religious freedom. 

The 1,500-year-old Mor Yakup Monastery lies about 250 meters from the Syrian border and sits atop a rocky hill in a remote place. It was accepted onto UNESCO’s World Heritage tentative list in 2014.

Turkey’s Human Rights Association Commission Against Racism and Discrimination published a report highlighting rights violations against a Syriac nun, Verde Gokmen, who lives alone in the ancient church of St. Dimet in Mardin. She was threatened by a local mob, who said they would kill her if she did not leave the village. 

Its report also claimed that Syriac churches and monasteries were “constantly exposed to the destruction of treasure hunters.” 

Vergili said there were about 300,000 Turkish-origin Syriacs in Europe. Some Syriacs returned to Turkey in the early 2000s, but many felt unwelcome there.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”