Turkey – Arameans – EU
A brief report of two activities in the Netherlands
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
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: (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.