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

Turkey – Arameans – EU

A brief report of two activities in the Netherlands

Johny Messo

Together with the support of some friends, whose names are mentioned at the end of this short account, the author organized a series of two activities in Hengelo and Enschede in the Netherlands on behalf of the Syriac Universal Alliance (SUA) delegation to the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG).

Highly regarded guest speakers were invited to share their contributions with respect to the theme “Turkey – Arameans – EU.” Whereas the first two lectures were held in Dutch, with occasional summaries given in Aramaic however, the speakers of the second activity presented their views in our beloved Aramaic language.

Hengelo, 2 December 2004

On a Thursday evening, some 150-175 Arameans (i.e. ‘Syriacs’) gathered in the building next to the St. Mary Church in Hengelo to listen to the lectures of two special guest speakers.

The first speaker was Prof. Martin van Bruinessen, a distinguished scholar who in 1999 was appointed to the chair of comparative studies of modern Muslim societies at the Utrecht University and the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World. The second speaker was Mr. Bastiaan Belder, who since 1999 represents the unified Christian political party of the ChristenUnie/SGP as Europarliamentarian in the EP’s foreign commission with three fellow Dutchmen – among them being Turkey rapporteur Camiel Eurlings.

Hengelo: Prof. M. van Bruinessen speaking. Photo: Edvar Yanik (Enschede).

After the host of the evening, Johny Messo, cordially welcomed all the participants, he continued with an introduction about the SUA, its recognition as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in 1999 and his own position as the main representative of the SUA to the UNOG. Mr. Messo further highlighted the important concepts of “minority” and “indigenous people” in light of international law. Next, he introduced the notable guest speakers to the audience and Prof. M. van Bruinessen opened the evening with his speech on “Minorities and Minority Rights in Turkey.” The Professor, who himself had visited Tur-‘Abdin already in the early 1970s, observed a positive development in Turkey towards the granting of minority rights and, albeit to a lesser extent, also concerning the recognition of minorities. Although the Aramean people, who are still not recognized by the Turkish government as an entity with a distinct non-Muslim and non-Turkish identity, are generally dubbed as a “minority,” they surely are a “people” just as other nations in this world.

Mr. Belder, on the other hand, spoke about “The European Parliament, for or against Turkey’s entrance into the EU?” He noted that the report, which will appear on December 17, is to be considered nothing more than as an advise to those who are authorized by the EU to take a decision on the question of whether or not Turkey will be judged ready to start the negotiations with. If the green light will be given for these talks with Turkey, it will be a process of about 15 years before Turkey might enter the EU; it was also stressed that in the meantime, however, these talks can be interrupted if Turkey shows serious signs of transgressions or misconduct. It was further noted that Turkey has a powerful lobby in Brussels.

On behalf of the SUA, both these special guests were given a complete set of The Hidden Pearl: The Aramaic Heritage and the Syriac Orthodox Church (three richly illustrated books and three videotapes), which they accepted with great joy and appreciation.

Enschede, 10 December 2004

Roughly one week later, a similar event was organized on a Friday evening in Enschede, in the building of the St. Jacob of Serugh Church. This time, though, three prominent Arameans, who enjoy a record of national and international acclaim among our people, were invited. Again the host was Johny Messo, who introduced these special guests to the approximately 125-150 participants.

First, Dr. Aho Hadodo Sevinc (Switzerland), the former President of the Syriac-Orthodox Diocese Council of Middle Europe and the Benelux Countries (1980-1986) and the SUA (1987-1996; since 1996 he is SUA’s Honorary President), talked about the history and the establishment of the SUA and its NGO status. He mentioned the possibilities for our people with SUA’s status and added that so much more can be done if the Aramean people would invest even more in this unique position among our parties and organizations.

Next, the floor was given to Ibrahim Seven (Germany), a man with a remarkable record who has developed himself over the past decades as, I dare say, one of the few qualified political analysts among our people as regards Turkey and its history. The topic of his speech was “The Genocide: Before & After.” Mr. Seven first outlined the birth and expansion of Islam in the countries where the native Christian inhabitants were about to be conquered and elaborated on their “Dhimmi” status, which denotes a humiliated and second rank citizenship within Islamic societies. Then he continued on the notion of a distinct Turkish identity, which was instilled by outsiders, that was the main reason for the Young Turk movement to plot a systematic mass murder on the Christian population in Minor Asia in 1913; this movement used Islam in the form of the now notorious term “Jihad” as well as many Kurdish tribes as their instruments. Inevitably, as especially the Kurds have now infiltrated in our traditional lands, we have to seek practical ways to live with them side by side, sharing the same lands. Furthermore it was accentuated that today it is a necessity for all the organizations among our people, despite the quarrels over a political and national name, to try to seek a solution for this national dilemma in order to unify and cooperate on the common goal of recognition of our forgotten Genocide. This important point was also stressed by Mr. Messo in Hengelo and which he reiterated in Enschede.

Enschede: (from right to left) Gouriye Mesut, Ibrahim Seven, Johny Messo and Dr. Aho Hadodo Sevinc. Photo: Edvar Yanik (Enschede).

The third and last speaker was Mr. Gouriye Mesut (Hengelo). Formerly head of the village of Mzizah in Tur-‘Abdin and known as a popular narrator about the Genocide, this aged man gave the audience a vivid picture of the mass killings that occurred in Tur-‘Abdin during the First World War by Kurdish locals and Ottoman soldiers. As a son whose father, and other family members, acted as a prominent ad-hoc leader in those days, he never forgot the painful memories when his relatives and congeners recalled and described to him the Genocide years as “Sayfo,” that is, “[The suffering years through the Islamic] Sword” in Aramaic. He further admonished the Aramean youth to beware of the original nature of Islam, which, as already exemplified by the so-called Dhimmi concept, is a violent religion and thus an Islamic environment is hard to live (read: survive) in.

Enschede: Questions from the audience. Photo: Edvar Yanik (Enschede).

On both occasions, plenty of intriguing questions were asked by the audience and sometimes room was given to discussion. Overall, it were two very educational and successful events and similar activities will be continued from February, 2005, on. As for now, we wish our readers a merry Christmas and a blessed 2004!

A Final Word of Thanks

I am particularly grateful to the following persons for their kind assistance in helping organize these two activities. Alphabetically: Gabriel Alp (Enschede), Aziz Aygur (Enschede), Edip Can (Borne), Aho Ilgun (Amsterdam/Enschede), Tony Messo (Zwolle/Hengelo), Sylvia Onsal (Hengelo), Sabri Tunc (Enschede), Edvar Yanik (Enschede). The support showed by the Suryoye Aramean Federation Holland, the cultural unions of Baradeus (Hengelo) and Platform Aram (Enschede), the Aramean Movement for Human Rights as well as the boards of the St. Mary and St. Jacob Churches, needs to be acknowledged too.

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