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  • November 2013: major meeting of Alevis in Kadiköy

Turkish Alevis organised a major meeting in Istanbul on 3 November 2013 to protest against the “democratic package” announced by the Turkish Government in September 2013. After the visit by the President of the Republic, Mr Abdullah Gül, to a cemevi (place of Alevi worship) in Tunceli in July 2013, a visit which marks a step forward in Turkish internal politics, almost 200,000 Alevis gathered in Istanbul in the Kadiköy district to ask the Government for equality of all citizens with respect to religious rights and a real recognition of their belief.

Source: Le petit journal

  • September 2013: “democratic package” adopted by the Turkish Government

On 30 September 2013, Prime Minister Mr Tayyip Erdogan announced a “democratic package” relating to freedoms and rights for minorities.

Some points concerning minorities:

a. It will be possible to choose between different languages and dialects for the language of instruction in private schools, some subjects will however continue to be taught in Turkish.
b. The Mor Gabriel Monastery, located near the town of Midyat in the Turkish province of Mardin, will be handed back to the Orthodox Syrians. Since 2009, the monastery was in conflict with the Turkish State.
c. The Grand Orthodox Seminary of Heybeliada Island, Halki in Greek, will not be reopened. The Halki Institute of Orthodox Theology is a higher education institution dedicated to the theological training of the Orthodox clergy and is located on the island of Heybeli in the Marmara Sea near Istanbul. It depends on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Founded in 1844, it was closed by Turkish authorities in 1971. Among the many points of discussion, its reopening is considered important for Turkey joining the European Union.
d. Towns and villages whose names underwent Turkification after 1980 can reuse their original names. Tunceli will thus revert to being Dersim. This process was already underway. The letters Q, X and W, which exist in Kurdish but not in Turkish, can henceforth be used.
e. Electoral propaganda will be allowed in languages other than Turkish. When writing and at public meetings, political leaders may also use languages other than Turkish. The Constitutional Court had already ordered the Government to respect this right in 2011.
f. There has been no progress regarding the status of the cemevi - the Alevi places of worship - which are still not recognised, thereby remaining problematic for this community.
g. The Government has guaranteed the creation of an institute of Roma languages and cultures.

Source: Liberation, L’Express, Le petit journal.

  • September 2013: first baptisms for a century in the Church of Akdamar, Van

For the first time in a century, Turkish Armenians celebrated baptisms in the Church of Akdamar Island in Van, a town in the East of the country. Six people, including one baby, were baptised in the waters of Lake Van after a religious ceremony in the Holy Cross Church of Akdamar Island (Akhtamar in Armenian), a building dating from the tenth century and restored between 2005 and 2007 by the Turkish authorities. Mr Aram Atessian, the acting leader of the Armenian Patriarchate, presided over the religious ceremony.

  • April 2013: developing interfaith relations in Turkey

Developments in various domains - religious buildings, assistance for refugees, cultural policies, law or social movements - bear witness to the evolution of interfaith relations.

- Restoration of the Church of Surp Giragos: the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, located in Diyarbakir, has reopened for prayers after a long period of restoration in November 2012. The new campanile, built in Moscow, weighs 150 kilos. With the participation at the ceremony of Aram Atesyan, Archbishop of the Patriarchate of Turkish Armenians, the church is once more open for prayer.

- In April 2013 the Turkish Government announced its strategy for Syriac refugees or other ethnic and religious groups fleeing the civil war that has been taking place since 2011 in Syria. The Government has planned to build two camps in Midyat intended to receive 10,000 people in total; the first near the Mor Abraham Monastery (4,000 refugees), and the second close to Treasury lands. The first camp will welcome Syriacs and Catholics, the second Kurds and Muslims. The Government is thereby putting in place humanitarian assistance, in cooperation with the Turkish Red Crescent. The budget announced by the Government for this humanitarian aid is approximately 10 million Turkish Lira.

The famous Turkish pianist Fazil Say had been accused of “insulting religion” in October 2012 for having tweeted a message citing a quatrain from the famous Persian poet Omar Khayyam making fun of carnal pleasures promised in the afterlife. Judgement was pronounced on 15 April 2013 and the pianist was sentenced to ten months in prison. This decision was changed by the legal bodies into five years under police supervision. If Fazil Say commits no offence during these five years, the sentence will be annulled. Say simply said: “I am sad for my country” during his brief statement to the Turkish press.

On 24 April 2013, several Turkish journalists and writers published a declaration concerning the events of 1915 in the French newspaper Libération. The title of the declaration is: “We are all Armenians on 24 April”. Its signatories include Ayşe Günaysu, Ahmet İnsel, Halil Berktay, Ferda Keskin, Ferhat Kentel, Şenol Karakaş, Sait Çetinoğlu, Ümit Efe, İsmail Beşikçi, Roni Margulies, Lale Mansur, Erdal Doğan, Yasemin Göksu, Ergin Cinmen and Ragıp Zarakolu.

  • March 2013: conflict over religious buildings - new developments concerning Mor Gabriel Monastery

The Mor Gabriel Orthodox Monastery, founded in 397 by Mor Samuel and Mor Simon of Qartmin, is located near the town of Midyat in the province of Mardin in Turkey. Since 2009, the monastery has been in conflict with the Turkish State. Kuryakos Ergün, President of the Foundation of the Mor Gabriel Monastery, says everything is clear politically as regards the ownership of the monastery, but the administrative will to solve the problem is lacking. After discussions with Mr Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ergün stated in March 2013 that the Government is aware of the issue of the ownership of the monastery, but the matter has long been in the hands of legal bodies. There is therefore nothing else to do than to await the legal decision.

Source: Le petit journal

D 5 December 2013   

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