Safety of the Life: General Social Situation of the Assyrian Villages in the Region

After hearing the situation of Nun Verde Gökmen living alone in the Mor Dimet Church in the Village of Zaz (Izbırak as the changed Turkish name) in Tur Abdin (Midyat region), the Istanbul Branch of Human Rights Association, Committee Against Racism and Discrimination, visited the Nun several times and had telephone conversations and correspondence with Isa Acan, chairman of the Zaz Village Association in Hamburg, starting in July 2017. During their visit to the village of Zaz, July 2-7 2017, the Committee visited nine Assyrian[1] villages in the region and met the villagers, pastors and local authorities at the same time, as will be detailed below. In addition to the Nun, the village headman (muhtar) Feyzullah Aslan and the Senior Commander of Hah’s (Anıtlı) Gendarme Station, Sergeant Major Kadir Altıntaş, were also interviewed on September 3-4, 2018.

1.1 Results of the correspondence and interviews:

  • Nun Verde Gökmen, who lives in the 1500-year-old Mor Dimet Church, has been harassed and threatened for many years. Various methods are being tried to terrify her: Unidentified people come to the church door with vehicles and wait for long hours, sometimes shouting ‘Allahu-Akbar‘ while punching the door, sometimes insulting the Nun directly, and on other times, threatening to kill her in case she doesn’t leave the church and the village. All of the complaints the Nun has made to the respective authorities were inconclusive due to the lack of evidence, as no one is willing to testify to these incidents.
    • As a result of raids and harassment by village guards (korucu) and their relatives during the 1990s, the Assyrian inhabitants of Zaz were forced to leave their village; people from neighboring Heştrek (Ortaca) village settled in the abandoned homes while attempts were made to seize immovable assets like fields, vineyards, oak trees of the Assyrians. Cultivated fields of the Assyrians are seized or un-cultivated fields are utilized without permission while even the crops are confiscated. Assyrians coming from abroad are prevented from hiring workers from the neighboring villages to plough their fields and collect their crops. This is made by threatening the neighboring villagers who might be interested in doing these jobs. This is directly related to what has been done to Nun Verde Gökmen. The Nun’s departure from the church will make it easier for them to achieve their goals, to seize the entire village.
    • This issue of rights violations in Dayro da Slibo (Çatalçam), Derkube (Karagöl), Haẖ (Anıtlı), Der-H̱adad (Mor Aho Monastery), Bsorino (Haberli), Sare (Sarıköy) and Kafro (Elbeğendi) in Tur Abdin is almost identical in all of the villages which were visited alongside Zaz: As it will be detailed in the relevant section of the report, there have been and are experienced cases of occupation on immovable property such as houses, fields, land, pastures, vineyards and gardens. It is observed that the officials who came for the land registry and cadastral inspection were sometimes threatened by armed tribal members, sometimes “persuaded”, and that the cadastral transactions were concluded in favor of the occupiers. The lawsuits were delayed because either the officers who are working on the modernization of the land registry records, or the experts appointed by the court for cadastral observation were threatened or bribed. Fields and land were passed over to the invaders. Assyrians, who migrated to various European countries after the evacuation of their villages by the state and [village] guards during 1990s then with the call of the authorities, returned in the early 2000s benefitting from the “Return to the Village Law” (Köye Dönüş Yasası) were not particularly welcomed by the Muslim population, especially by the Kurdish tribes in power, and were threatened and harassed. This hostility continues in the region.
    • The churches, monasteries and their ruins in the region that are historically and culturally invaluable are constantly exposed to the destruction of treasure hunters while Assyrian cultural heritage is being destroyed. One of the reasons for the efforts to cast out Nun Verde Gökmen is the desire to dig and dig in the church comfortably for a “treasure”, which is believed to be buried in the corridors of Mor Dimet Church.
    • As a result of our last visit and subsequent telephone conversations with the Nun, we learned that some Assyrians from Zaz wanted to remove the Nun from the church and the village, although we were convinced that they were few in number and had no power to do so. From our research and interviews so far, we reached the conclusion that these people have taken such an initiative under the influence of those who targeted the Nun in the village of Ortaca, especially Mukhtar Feyzullah Aslan and his surroundings. This conviction is strengthened when we consider the 2009-dated letter mentioned in Section 3.2 below, in which some Assyrians from Zaz [apparently] asked the Nun to leave the village.

1.2  Our Assessment:

As stated under “Evaluation and Conclusion” in section 7 of our report, the Nun is surrounded by a hostile network, left alone and trapped. At the source of this is the fact of the Assyrian Genocide in 1915 (also known as Sayfo), where Assyrians have been separated from their homeland, and that those who tried to claim their history and ancestral lands were subjected to various violations of rights, including threats, harassment and intimidation. As detailed in the concluding section of our report, state authorities must take all necessary measures in order the Nun can live without fear in her place.

Again, and as detailed in the evaluation and conclusion section, effective measures should be taken by law enforcement officers to stop land, field, pasture, and oak barren seizures, also against harassment, threats, intimidation, terrorization and similar violations against Assyrian villages of the Tur Abdin region; local supervisers and chief property administrators should take a clear and decisive stand on the side of the victims. The cases that are dragging should be dealt with immediately.

To read the full report: Safety of the Life: General Social Situation of the Assyrian Villages in the Region

[1]           Known as Süryani in Turkish