By BosNewsLife News Center
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)– There was uncertainty Wednesday, December 3, over the future of the world’s oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in eastern Turkey, as local authorities and villagers have demanded part of its properties, an advocacy group told BosNewsLife Wednesday, December 3.
The Mor Gabriel Monastery, located near the town of Midyat in Mardin Province, is the target of several court cases, said Middle East Concern (MEC).
On Wednesday, December 3, “Bishop Timotheos Samuel Aktas will defend the monastery against numerous allegations, including claims that major buildings works have taken place without permission,” MEC said.
The allegations are denied by the monastery. “One chapel was refurbished some years ago and is generally recognized as one of the most beautiful parts of the complex,” MEC said. Later this month, on December 19, a local court was to examine boundary disputes raised by two neighbouring villages. However, “The monastery was built before the villages were founded,” MEC stressed.
In a move local Christians view as a “lack of respect for Christmas Eve” another hearing has been scheduled by authorities for December 24, when a court will consider “the confiscation of some of the monastery’s land that was falsely labelled as ‘forest’,” the advocacy groop explained. The month ends with a hearing on whether the monastery “misappropriated land by constructing a boundary wall outside its legal boundaries,” MEC said.
The legal battle comes after local community leaders began making “false accusations” and threats, MEX said. “They then used the misinformation as a pretext to start at least four court cases against the monastery.”
The case comes also amid growing pressure on Christians in Turkey where another trial, this time against Protestant believers for “insulting Turkishness”, has made no progress following two years of legal battles. Turkish Christians Turan Topal and Hakan Tastan are charged with “insulting Turkishness” by spreading Christianity through “illegal methods,” but observers say the Justice Ministry has been delaying answering court questions about the “viability” of the charges.
The legal battle has been less about guilt or innocence and more about tainting the Protestant community’s image, said the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey in published remarks.
In addition a court case on last year’s murder of three Christians in Turkey’s southeastern city of Malatya has led to further investigations into the alleged connection between the five defendants and shadowy elements of the Turkish state linked to criminal activities.
The trial at Malatya’s Third Criminal Court on November 21 in the murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske presented little new evidence, observers said.
Christians comprise a tiny minority in predominantly Muslim Turkey, but the government has come under international pressure to improve their rights as one of many conditions for European Union membership.