ArDO: Yes we want Lebanon to be the Switzerland of the East and Beirut the Paris of the East

Academic on the history of the Arameans

Johny Messo

The Sincerity of Turkey's Democracy?

The Case of the Indigenous Aramean (Syriac) People

Johny Messo is President of the Syriac Universal Alliance

Author: Johny Messo

15 November 2010 - Issue : 911

From the outside, today’s Turkey appears as if it differs markedly from yesterday’s Turkey. However, one should always bear in mind that not everything that shines is gold. As a result of the decision made in December 2004 by the European Union (EU) to start the accession negotiations with Turkey, the recent years have witnessed a series of widely acclaimed reform packages and constitutional amendments in this ever more de-Christianized, Islamified state.

Despite these developments, most experts agree that Turkey still has a long way to go in order to achieve “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.” In the case of the Aramean people, this part of the Copenhagen criteria, which form the basis in the negotiation process with candidate countries since 1993, exposes Turkey’s apparent lack of commitment to Europe’s values.

1. The Aramean (Syriac) People of Turkey
Most politicians, journalists, writers and activists are not familiar with the Aramean people and their historical presence in Southeast Turkey. Briefly, five facts are worth stressing:

1.1 Indigenous: Contrary to the Turks and the Kurds, who as latecomers are foreign to Southeast Turkey, the Arameans and their Aramaic language are indigenous to this countryside, as corroborated by written evidence dating back to the 12th century B.C.

1.2 People: Rather than a religious community, the Arameans are a people or stateless nation, and this is how their vast majority increasingly perceive and call themselves. In Turkey, the ethno-religious Arameans historically consist of the Syriac (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant), Chaldean and Nestorian (or: ‘Assyrian’) communities.

1.3 Name: The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch aptly wrote about the synonymy of their names: “The Syriac language is the Aramaic language itself, and the Arameans are the Syrians themselves. He who has made a distinction between them has erred.” There exists an academic consensus on this issue, as there also is one that states that ‘Assyrian’ is a historically unfounded and politicized name that was invented in the 19th century.

1.4 Diaspora: As a result of systematic ethnic cleansing, land theft, persecutions and discrimination by the Turkish State, often with the help of Kurdish auxiliaries, the Arameans fled from their homeland. Today some 25,000 Arameans reside in Turkey, among whom circa 2,500 souls have remained in Southeast Turkey. The number of Aramean Europeans substantially exceeds the number of Arameans in this region.

1.5 Leadership: In the diaspora, particularly in Europe, the Arameans have tasted the delights of true democracy, freedom and equal citizenship. In the secularized and free West, secular organizations emerged in addition to the churches and monasteries aiming at organizing, defending and representing the Aramean people and their rights.

2. The Aramean Question in Turkey
The Aramean Question in Turkey consists of past and present cases of many human rights violations which have never been addressed by Turkey or the international community. Due to limited space, only four sub-questions will be mentioned. Rather than elaborating them, as experts have done many times before, it has been decided to ask Turkey reasonable questions which represent the voice and the desire of the Aramean people. It is hoped that this will  initiate an official dialogue with the Turkish Government, conceivably coordinated by the EU.

2.1 Lack of Recognition & Legal Status
1. What is Turkey’s position on recognizing the Arameans as a ‘minority’, in conformity with international law and the Lausanne Treaty from 1923, much like the Greeks, Armenians and Jews, so that they are allowed to establish their own schools, teach their Aramaic language and freely practice their Christian faith?

2. What is Turkey’s view on recognizing the Arameans as an ‘indigenous people’, in keeping with the
UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples signed by Turkey in 2007 and explicitly stated in Resolution 1704 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

2.2 Illegal Land Occupation
3. What is Turkey’s stance towards the continuation of the illegal expropriation by the State of huge amounts of land historically and legally belonging to the Arameans, as affirmed by the European Union and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?
4. When will Turkey end the delays of court cases, noted by the
European Court of Human Rights Annual Report 2009, that Aramean monasteries, villages and proprietors are facing?

2.3 Endangered Aramaic Cultural Heritage
5. Is the Turkish Government willing to take any responsibility in restoring, safeguarding, developing and promoting the endangered Aramaic cultural heritage of Southeast Turkey?

6. Is the Turkish Government prepared to assist and facilitate the Arameans who originate from Turkey in preserving their threatened language, culture and identity?

2.4 Return Migration: The Future of Tur-Abdin
7. Is Turkey ready to invest structurally in its south-eastern terrain, above all in improving the security, infrastructure and facilities for normal life circumstances there that may draw Aramean refugees back to the land of their ancestors?  

8. Can Turkey ensure that the Tur-Abdin region in Southeast Turkey remains populated by its original Aramean inhabitants in the next decades, if not centuries?

3. The ball is in Turkey’s court
The Arameans have an ancient history in Turkey and are one of the oldest Christian peoples in the world. Despite genocide, mistreatment and discrimination, they have always remained loyal and peaceful citizens. Noting that the Christian Arameans have fled from their homeland and in the past decades have frequently expressed the desire to be officially recognized by the Turkish Government as a ‘minority’, according to the Lausanne Treaty, in order to obtain a legal status so that they can start building up a future in their ancestral land, Turkey can now demonstrate how sincere its commitments to the values and principles of the EU truly are.

 The Arameans, above all, ask for equal citizenship, based on a new constitution that meets the standards of the EU and which laws will effectively be implemented. They strive for the recognition of their people and historic presence in Southeast Turkey. They ask not to be treated as foreigners or as a fifth-column by Turkish society, led by the mainstream media and biased textbooks. In fact, Turkey should embrace and integrate the native Arameans as an ambitious people who can enrich it culturally, intellectually, spiritually and economically. With their experience in the Western diaspora, the Arameans may even become beneficial to Turkey in assisting Turkish society in the continuing process of democratization. 

 Between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D., the Arameans brought the Mesopotamian and Greek sciences to the Arabs who later exported this knowledge to Europe. Perhaps with their Christian background and as a people that has integrated most successfully in European countries, the Arameans may once again form a bridge between two civilizations, this time between Turkey and the EU. In any case, the ball of democratization is in Turkey’s court.

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