A total of 55 improperly-confiscated property deeds belonging to Assyrians in Tur Abdin have been returned to their rightful owners.
The properties were seized in July 2017, three years after Tur Abdin was absorbed into a newly-established municipality in 2014, at which point the legal status of their ownership deeds was unjustly dissolved and transferred to Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs. The confiscated properties included churches, monasteries, and Assyrian burial sites. The act was formally condemned by the European Parliament in a resolution issued on February 8, 2018.
Negotiations between Turkish authorities and the Mor Gabriel Foundation have been ongoing for years, as land confiscations in Tur Abdin specifically date back more than a decade. Turkey has historically expropriated properties belonging to ethnic and religious minorities in the country, a process that constitutes ethnic cleansing.
50 of the 55 property deeds returned earlier this week were issued to the Mor Gabriel Foundation, while the remaining five were distributed the Zarafan Monastery and other churches in Mardin. Ownership deeds for 18 out of 30 properties belonging to Mor Gabriel Monastery itself—the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world—have yet to be returned.
Turkish authorities also retain ownership of the surrounding farmlands, totaling 55 individual deeds, which have belonged to the local church communities for centuries. “What good are the buildings if we aren’t recognized as owners of the lands? The land is much more valuable,” an Assyrian man from Tur Abdin told a representative of the Assyrian Policy Institute.
A spokesperson for the Assyrian Confederation of Europe estimates that only 30% of the properties confiscated since 2007 have been returned, while the remaining 70% are legally considered the property of the Turkish state.
Kuryakus Ergun, Charmain of the Mor Gabriel Foundation, said in an interview with Assyria TV, “The Mor Gabriel Foundation is 175 years old, and has the ability to protect Assyrian lands...For years, we have been fighting for the rights to our monasteries, churches, and properties built and preserved with the blood of our people. We will continue to fight for them.”
Tur Abdin is a historic Assyrian region located in southeast Turkey. It is currently home to approximately 3,000 Assyrians belonging to various church denominations.