One of World's Oldest Monasteries May Lose Land Used for 1,600 Years
Update (Feb. 27, 2014): Middle East Concern reports that this week, the monastery "received the title deeds to about 40% of the contested land," and is "continuing the legal process to regain the remaining 60% of the land under dispute, despite the Prime Minister's declaration [in Sept. 2013] that all the land would be returned."
Update (January 14): The Mor Gabriel case is still pending, but last week Turkey made its largest return of seized Christian property in giving 470 acres back to a Greek Orthodox foundation whose Istanbul monastery trained current Patriarch Bartholomew.
The future of one of the world's oldest, functioning Christian monasteries may be in jeopardy.
The Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara, Turkey, has ruled that the state treasury can repossess nearly 60 percent of the land belonging to Mor Gabriel. The legal controversy comes as Syriac Christians, who worship in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, return to revitalize their homeland in eastern Turkey after fleeing violence decades ago between Turkey and Kurdish separatists.
The Assyrian monastery has been functioning since it was founded in 397. However, in 2008, the treasury filed a land registration suit against Mor Gabriel after Muslim chiefs in neighboring villages complained of the monastery's "anti-Turkish activities." That case originally was dismissed, but was resurrected on appeals over the monastery's tax records.
According to Turkish newspaper Zaman, the appeals court ruled in favor of the treasury, stating that although the land has been occupied by Mor Gabriel for more than 1,600 years, it is not the legal property of the monastery. Zaman also reported that the judges "had 'lost' property and fiscal documents 'proving that the land in question belongs to the monastery.'"
In response, Assyrian foundations made Mor Gabriel a topic in their summer meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül.
Mor Gabriel can now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to retain its property and existence. For now, the monastery's legal status is in question.
Turkey is still is looking to gain full European Union membership. However, the EU stipulates that protection of minority rights is necessary for entry. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the dispute over the land is being "closely watched [in Turkey] and abroad."
CT has reported on the rebirth of the Turkish church after 550 years of decline, as well as how Christian leaders avoid ministering to the nation's 11 million Kurds, Turkey's largest minority group, but reach them anyway.
CT has also covered the use of anti-missionary sentiments in the long-running Malatya martyrdom trial, the stabbing of a church leader because of 'hate TV', and the rebuilding of a pastor's family after he was murdered in Turkey.