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Christian charity concerned as Christians arrested in Turkey

by Ruth Sax
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A Christian religious  freedom charity has expressed concern after three Assyrian Christians were arrested.

They were detained on 9th January in the province of Mardin in Southeast Turkey.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) have reported that Turkish Gendarmerie in the Assyrian town of Üçköy arrested Fr Sefer Bileçen (known as Fr Aho), who had been taking care of the 1500 year-old Mor Yakub Monastery in Mardin province for many years.

Two other Assyrian Christians named Joseph Yar, chair of the town's council, and Musa Tastekin from Dibek village were also arrested.  Musa Tatekin was released after initial interrogations.

Fr Aho was reportedly arrested on the basis of secret testimony by a member of People's Defence Forces (HPG), the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been designated a 'terrorist organisation' by Turkey.

Fr Aho was accused of providing food and water to HPG fighters when they came to the monastery. On 13th January sources confirmed to CSW that Fr Aho's lawyer is contesting his arrest.

A member of the Assyrian Christian community said: "They accuse us of feeding the PKK when they knock at our doors carrying their guns. In the past, PKK fighters killed some community members who refused to give them food as per government's orders. We are caught in a conflict that we have nothing to do with." 

In the 1990s, thousands of Christians and Kurds were forced out of their villages and towns when the conflict between the Turkish army and the PKK escalated. Today Assyrians in Turkey face challenges related to their religious and cultural identities.

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We are deeply concerned by the arrests of these Assyrian Christians. We urge the Turkish government to release Fr Aho and Mr Joseph Yar immediately, and to allow their lawyers free access to all documents and testimonies related to their case.

"We call on the international community to press the Turkish government to end all forms of discrimination against religious minorities, and to uphold its constitutional obligations to protect and respect the rights of all citizens regardless of their religious affiliation or ethnic background."

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