Understanding Determinants: Syrian Orthodox Christians And Security-Related Issues In Diyarbakir And The Tur Abdin : Marcello Mollica

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Understanding Syrian

And Security-Related In

And The


ABSTRACT: This articleis based on participantobservationand in-depthinterviewsconductedbetween2006and 2010intheeastern AnatoliancityofDiyarbakirand theTurAbdin area withmembers ofthelocal SyrianOrthodoxChristiancommunityand itsrepre- sentatives.The discussionexplorestheoftenoverlookedattitudes ofMiddle East Christianstowardsecurityissues in thecontextof

recentdemographicand sociopoliticalchanges.In particular,it addresses thedeterminantsthatexplain theimpactofIslamic mo-

bilizationon Christianminorities, at Christian lookingspecifically

responsestoemergingfundamentalismT.hisisa complexissue.On one hand,ongoingtensionsthreatentoundermineinterethniacnd

toleranceand local interreligious disruptlong-standing equilibria.

On theotherhand,WesternattitudestowardtheMiddle East and ignoranceoftheChristianslivingtherecontributeto thealienation ofthoselocal ChristiansfromtheWest,thuscreatingan ambiguous


ISSN 0894-6019,© 2011The InstituteI,nc.

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Determinants: Christians


Diyarbakir Tur Abdin

Marcello Mollica of Social Sciences

University of Fribourg



thisanalysisbringsout importantinsightsthathelp to develop a broaderunderstandingofpluriculturalMiddle Easternsocieties

thatface and even between growingseparation incomprehension,

communitiesknowntohave coexistedforcenturies. Introduction

According to legend, Abraham was born some 4,000 years ago in a cave south of today’s southeastern Anatolian city of

§anliurfa, formerly known as Edessa, Urfa and Ur, the latter

being the name given to his birthplace in the Bible (Genesis 11:31). Two thousand years later, inhabitants of Roman colonies in Anatolia listened to St. Paul, himself a native of Tarsus (on the eastern Turkish Mediterranean coast) when he visited the Seven Churches of Asia (or Apocalypse) and to whom he later wrote letters (Revelation 2-3). The Virgin Mary is said to have lived Her last years in a house near Ephesus (Efes), where She would have stayed in what is today a chapel, known as Meryem Ana Evi (The House of the Blessed Virgin Mary), a holy shrine shared by Christians and Muslims, and where, since ancient times, Christians have flocked in pilgrimage on the Octave of the feast of St. Mary’s Dormition (15 August) (Valli 2006:70- 74). Evidence of Her presence in Ephesus comes from biblical accounts (John 19:25-27) of Her relationship to St. John the Apostle who, according to Eusebius (2001 V 24:2) died in the city in a.d. 104; also, the third Ecumenical Council was held in the city in a.d. 431, in a cathedral known as the Double Church of St. Mary. The ruins, discovered in 1891 by Abbe Gouyet, as a result of the mystical visions of a girl called Anne-Catherine Emmerick, received three Papal visits from Paul VI (1967), John Paul II (1979), and Benedict XVI (2006). For centuries, Anatolia had the largest Christian population in the region. It was the second cradle of Christianity after the Holy Land. Furthermore, Istanbul still holds the throneof the Ecumenical

Patriarchate of Constantinople, primus inter pares among all Orthodox bishops; while the city hosts the largest number of

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Christians in Anatolia. Over the last century, however, Turkey has lost most of its Christian population, with the exception of a few communities in Istanbul and in the South East.

Drawing on material collected through participant observa- tion and interviews over four years both in Diyarbakir1 and in other eastern Anatolian settings and diaspora, this article ex- plores the overlooked attitudes of Christians in a small congre-

gation with an emphasis on security-related issues raised by an emerging Islamic fundamentalism. Extensive interviews were

conducted with religious leaders and representatives of politi- cal parties and tendencies. These interviews (while unstruc-

tured) addressed themes such as how people were informed

and shaped by ideas about intercommunal conflict. Given the

issues posed by the research, questions were carefully directed,

especially those touching upon core controversial theoretical foci, such as continuities and discontinuities between the at- titudes of people towards communal identity and religiously

driven violence. This was done in order to prevent any adverse

consequences which the ethnographical account might cause to interviewees or to their representative groups. However, a number of interviews were conducted with Kurdish activists

(both at home and diaspora) and with colleagues at the local Dicle University in Diyarbakir. These interviews focused on issues related to growing fundamentalism in the research loci. The reader must also understand that this research involves

particularly sensitive issues. Regrettably, in many cases I will have to omit the finer details of my involvement in various

events and circumstances, which is why I have chosen to follow

a narrative through two key informants, the only two whom I will name.

In the region under study, consociational multicultural ar-

rangements2 have previously provided a degree of toleration,

especially while the demographics were relatively stable. How-

ever, demographic changes occurring mostly in the last century, and reflecting wider Middle Eastern trends, have changed this

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112 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

situation. Population shifts have led to social exclusion and to

the disruption of long-standing equilibra, with each commu- nity becoming increasingly frozen within its sociocultural and

spatial boundaries. In addition, stable economic arrangements and relations were upset, due to an influx of incomes from na- tional and international networks based on migrant workers’ remitting income earned abroad. These trends have enabled

locals to develop ways to resist changes previously induced by local economic realities, which often were mediated via local

authority figures such as bishops. Thus, they no longer need to

“move on” following economic change and development. The aforementioned events contributed to the develop-

ment of a siege mentality, as these communities now are fixed in localities often surrounded by (as they see it) an increasing

intolerance. Thus determinants here mean the

product of historical processes of (real and perceived) oppres- sion, while their related reactions have taken the forms of dread,

mistrust and migration. Feelings of isolation, forgottenness, and victimhood have grown among the Anatolian Christian

minority, whereby the danger posed by the minority to the majority represents the very essence of what it means to be a

minority, regardless of religious affiliation. In fact, I also believe

that we can compare responses to ethnoreligious violence to other contexts, where similar acts produced similar behaviors.

Bringa (1995), for instance, came to the same conclusion when analyzing a once mixed Catholic-Muslim village in Bosnia that was attacked in 1993 by Croatian forces and later emptied of Muslims.

The danger for the minority is usually based on cultural or religiously motivated fanatical components. On the other hand, the fanaticism coming from the minority is usually defensive, or even apologetic. In other words, if the majority is ready to sacrifice something, or deny itself something, it is for a sort of “social pact” with the minority. Meanwhile, the minority has little to sacrifice, and behaves as if it is living in a state of

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sterility magnified by a growing sense of impotence, wherein people wait for the solution to come from outside. Still, every

majority has its weaknesses, such as its minorities.
In turn, even in a secular country like Turkey, old Christian

institutions often enjoy little protection and religiously moti-

vated killings still happen, such as Father Andrea Santoro’s

murder on February 5, 2006 (D’Angelo 2006). The priest was killed in his church in Trabzon, named after Sancta Maria. His

killing has been variously linked to a growing intransigence towards Christians, a reaction to the satirical cartoon on the

Prophet published by the Danish newspaper Fillands-Posten (Sandionigi 2006) or the madness of a young man. However, similar events can be observed in other, less secular countries

in the region.
With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Asad 2007), most re-

ligious-related violence has too simplistically been associated with the so-called “Rise of Radical Islam.” Some analyses even

miss the links with ethnicity in their overemphasis on religion. Western interventions tend to follow a similar path, which fur-

ther alienates regional Christians. In public discourse, radical

Islam is nowadays associated almost exclusively with its ex-

treme expression: suicide bombers, variously conceived, from irrational to, in Durkhemian terms, altruistically driven.

Kemalist Turkey is a case in point, particularly since the

Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP, The Justice and Development

Party) came to power in 2002, emphasizing its Islamic roots while trying to operate within the boundaries set by the secular Turkish Constitution. However, this is not to say that the AKP

agenda can be explained sic et simpliciter as part of a wider tide of Islamic fundamentalism, since the dynamics of the

formation of the contemporary Islamic movement in Turkey

are much more complex (Schiffauer 2001; Ozyiirek 2006). In addition, this article does not argue that Islam is unchanging

(an assumption extensively criticized fromSaid [1991] onward), nor does it suggest that southeastern Anatolian Sunni funda-

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114 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

mentalists represent the universal Muslim. Nevertheless, recent

sociocultural and religious transformations in eastern Turkey

have caused major problems for the Christians, who represent

an almost insignificant minority, trapped between the State

with a moderate face) and local Kurdish-Muslim tribes. They now face a growing fundamentalism linked to a renewed Islamization of society, which began in the 1990s

and is particularly strong in eastern Turkey as opposed to the increasingly “westernized” West.

Finally, this article is not the result of a research project that

was looking at the dynamics of ethno-religious identities3 in southeast Anatolia. Rather, it assessed the impact of recent

religious nationalism upon minority groups. Nevertheless, the roots of contemporary religiously motivated violence are lo-

cated, at least partially, in the sociopolitical transformations that occurred in the Anatolian peninsula in the last century. Ozyurek (2006), for instance, argues that the “transformation” of the State-citizen relationship (in reference to both specific and glo- balized modern Turkey) was faced by growing political Islam and Kurdish nationalism, where Islamist and Kemalist groups

proposed different explanations of modernity to prove “their”

modernity and represent the “others” non-modernity.
On the contrary, this article looks at religiously motivated

security issues through local eyes, in the context of a regional, comparative, historical, sociocultural, and religious frame- work, with an emphasis on the Syrian Orthodox Church4, a congregation that traces its origins back to the early Christian community of Antioch (Acts 11:26). According to tradition, the church was founded in a.d. 37 (Horner 1989:33-36). The term “Syriac” identifies both a “nation” (Assyria) and a “lan-


(Aramaic5). The words Assyrians6 and Arameans still have political meaning, although today they are confined to

the diaspora. structural in cannot be dis- Although problems Turkey

missed, particularly because Turkey is represented and repre-

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sents itself as a secular State, the Turkocentric State is slowly

minorities, whether ethnic (such as Kurds) or religious (such as Ale vis or Christians).

The Comparative Reality of Middle Eastern Christian En- claves

No analysis of southeastern Anatolia can omit a prelimi- nary reference to the so-called “Kurdish issue,” which is still

seen as a defining criterion in understanding the ongoing violence in that part of Asia Minor, and therefore is linked to

issues explored in this article. The “Kurdish issue” originates from what Kurdish nationalists have called a suppression of a number of rights that were to be granted to minorities (in- cluding Christians, often inhabiting the same areas as Kurds) in the Anatolian peninsula. The extensions of these rights, first listed in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), have been interpreted controversially ever since7.The ongoing armed conflictbetween the Turkish Army and the Partiya KarkerenKurdistan (PKK, The Kurdistan Workers’ Party) is one of the many byproducts of

that interpretation, still affecting all communities living in the area. Today there are approximately 26 million Kurds, most of

whom live in Turkey. They represent the largest ethnic minority in the Middle East and they are treated by various governments

(excluding Iraq) in ways that often defy internationally agreed human rightsstandards (McDowall 1996:3-8). The governments of Iran, Turkey and Syria are anxious about Kurdish political ambitions, particularly since the creation of the Kurdish Re- gional Government in northern Iraq.

Christians in the southeastern Anatolian area of the Tur Abdin (Mountain of the Servants of God) have co-existed with (Sunni) Kurds for centuries. However, following a similar trend in many mixed Middle Eastern areas, attacks, robberies, confiscation of lands and houses, forced marriages and kidnap-

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116 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

pings of young Christian girls were regularly perpetrated by local Kurdish tribes (Brock 2001b:212). More recently, to make

matters worse, requests for help from local Christian religious authorities to local political authorities went unheard, either because local authorities were linked to local Kurdish tribes or because the central authorities had poor relations with the Christians. This has aggravated a situation in which a majority ofChristians had already leftTurAbdin forIstanbul orWestern Europe (today only 100 Christian families remain in Mardin and 20 in the Diyarbakir area). Furthermore, the two Gulf Wars (1991 and 2003) have exacerbated inter-religious tensions by

century was that European pressures “for their protection ac- celerated their integration” in the Turkish bureaucratic system;

local pluri-religious institutions were created which generated

the need to employ functionaries “open” to European culture, e.g., Christians (2006:100). However, what can be seen as the real catastrophe followed direct European intervention in Asia Minor. Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning

of the 20th century, the peninsula was “emptied” of the once conspicuous Christian groups (Corm 2006: 67, 72). A similar process occurred a century later when, according to UNHCR statistics, the 1.4 million Christians living in contemporary Iraq before 2003 were reduced to 600, 000.8 Turkey did not escape this trend, despite Kemalist “Turkeyfication” and “Westernization” of the country (Esposito 1992:78) along secularist lines.

In Turkey, minority issues still represent a major problem,

despite attempts at reform “packages” and “harmonization laws”9 made since 2001 (Ozbudun and Yazici 2004) in order to

fulfilthe 1993 Copenhagen criteria forEU candidate countries

accession. Such attempts are part of a reform trend traceable

back to the early 1990s, before Turkey’s EU candidacy became a true possibility. Meanwhile, the recent constitutional referenda

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fostering a growing religious radicalization

(Corm 2006:122). Corm (2006) has suggested that a major paradox for non- Muslims within the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th


(September 12, 2010) were presented as intended to amend the constitution in line with EU ideals on individual, social,

economic and judicial aspects. However, scepticism about such reforms and their applicability remains, both within Turkey (Kurdish nationalists and Kemalists) and without (many lead-

ing European political figures).
The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) granted minority status only

to three religious groups (Greeks, Armenians and Jews), and Turkey has made no major changes to that policy ever since. This state of affairs has been criticized by the EU since 1998 and, despite recommendations to grant a similar status to the

Syriac community, such as opening their schools or building new churches (Samur 2009), no changes have been introduced.

European doubts about Turkey’s EU candidacy have been frus- trating from a Turkish viewpoint too, because Turkey has had the most difficulttime of all the EU candidates, despite being an associate member of the [EC]EU since 1963 (Miiftuler-Bag 2002). Of course, the picture is more complicated than an EU-Turkish

bilateral relationship. A large role has been played by European

public opinion (represented by many anti-Islamic right-wing parties) and by Turkey’s difficultrelations with Athens, caused

by the longstanding Cyprus issue. Turkish disappointment over European resistance is explained above all by the fact that the

firstrequirement for EU accession is to be European (on this

ground, Morocco’s application has been rejected) and no one has ever questioned Turkey’s claims to such a status. Instead,

European attitudes have mostly evolved fromtwo Copenhagen

criteria – human rights and the protection of minorities; and,

although conditions in the region have improved slightly, mi-

norities, including the Syriac community (the largest Christian community in Anatolia), continue to have an uneasy life. The

Christians’ problems range from issues relating to the practice of their religion, to security, and to economics, all of which are

closely related to wider regional phenomena.

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118 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

Anthropological analysis must be comparative. Specific ethnographic accounts must be made to speak to each other

(Lambeck 2002:2-5). By making reference to a Christian commu-

nity located to the east of present-day Turkey, where Turkey’s

privileged position is both European and Middle Eastern, the present discussion develops a critique of the so-called “Mediter-

raneists,” who, initially, following the functionalist approach,10 conceived anthropology as the study of small-scale societies.

it also takes into account the questions raised on this discourse and its analytical structure by a more recent

generation of European anthropologists. Critiques formulated by Boissevain and Friedl (1975) and Herzfeld (1987) have re-

cently been summarized by Prato (2009), Giordano (n.d.)11 and Pardo and Prato (2010). Moreover, as Giordano (2010) argues,

in comparison with other geographical areas, only relatively recently did anthropologists discover Mediterranean societies

as a subject of study. Similar points have been made about the

Middle East by Fischer (1980), Aronoff (1986) and, recently, by Monterescu and Rabinowitz (2007). With reference to Turkey, the debate brings to mind the seminal work of Paul Stirling

(1965) and, more recently, the political dimension developed by Deliba§ (2009a).

In sum, as Prato (2009) has synthesized, when research on urban areas started in the 1930s, the functionalist approach was dominant in anthropology, but there was a lack of appreciation of broader dynamics, as had been theorized by Leeds (1964), whose approach was later influential in encouraging cross-cul- tural (e.g., Southall 1973) and historical (e.g., Fox 1977) studies. Thus, although a few authors tried to consider the wider picture (Boissevain and Friedl 1975), it is from the late 1980s that this trend took a definite form, though most works were, at least

initially, neighborhood-based studies (Sanjek 1994). Finally, it is with Pardo’s (1996) seminal work that micro- and macro- reali-

ties were brought together. Here, I intend to argue that Christian enclaves in the Middle East should not be seen as isolated enti-

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ties, in both space and time, as if disconnected from the wider

regional arena. Looking at my own ethnography as a part of a broader context has revealed similar trends in both the West

Bank and in south Lebanon (Mollica 2008, 2010b). These old communities share a perception of the outside world as being both close and distant; on the other hand, the outside world often has a distorted view of these communities, when it knows of them. Often, when I speak about my research, I realize that many people are unaware of the existence of Christians in the Middle East and, for a large proportion of them, the term Arab is synonymous with Muslim. That there are Christians in the Middle East often comes as a shock; and it is largely unknown that most of these Christians have ethnic or cultural Arab ori- gins or Byzantine or Persian roots (Corm 1989:147).

I had to deal with such stereotypes when I started my field- work. I will mention two of them: first,all Turks are Muslims and all Arabs are Muslims (at home); second, an academic research study in southeast Anatolia must be on the Kurds or the attendant Conflict (in the field). Something similar oc- curred when I did research on the Christian enclaves in south Lebanon; i.e., it was assumed that I was researching the Shia community. In each of the countries, some of the informants remain skeptical about my true intentions, whereas others see me as, to say the least, an “unusual” researcher; in some cases, I encountered political abuse. The cause of such abuse can be traced partly to some careless literature in the field of Mediterranean studies (Herzfeld 1987) and to the influence of

the geopolitical processes on anthropological research (Prato 2007). Let us consider the relevance of these issues in the situ-

ation under study.
There is a clear relationship among regional destabilization

and growing Islamic fundamentalism12, migration, demograph- ic trends, economic change and the changes that have occurred

in the Christian populations and in their socio-political repre- sentation in recent years. However, Christians are mentioned

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120 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

favorably in the Koran (Sura al-Ma’ida vv. 85-88) and from the rise of Islam the relationship between Arab13 Christians and Arab Muslims has been mostly one of mutual respect (Prior

and Taylor 1994). The former played a significant part in the renaissance of the Arabic language and Christian missionaries

in Arabia probably invented its written version (Cragg 1992:26, 45). In the Middle East, however, the word “Christian” refers

to anyone who is baptized and belongs to a Christian family and community (ta’ifa). This is the way in which the Islamic

majority views those who are not Muslim. However, there are two modes of being a Middle Eastern Christian: the “Arab Christian” dislikes the West and hates Israel more than it fears the Muslims, while the “Eastern Christian” takes the opposite view (Sabra 2006). It is my opinion that this dichotomy can be extended to other Christian minorities of different ethnic

origins, including the Syrians, and impacts upon the way in which antagonistic behaviors are received (by Christians) or

expressed (by other groups). Furthermore, the above should be

taking into account the vicissitudes of minori- ties in the late Ottoman and the early Republic time, the rise

of Kurdish paramilitarism, and finally the recent emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkish public life.

In what follows I endorse Giordano’s (2001:4918) notion of historical region to eschew the idea of uniqueness attached to the Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean space is not a clearlydefinedunit (Braudel 1985:10), but a “mosaic” of pluri-cul- tural societies that have been living in proximity for centuries.

Consequently, identifications and auto-comprehensions are the outcome of a permanent mirroreffect.TMIn the Turkish case,

we must also take into account some overlapping dimensions (European, Middle Eastern, etc.). However, Christian minorities face some resistance when defending their rights, since they often lack the links with local elites and central government that the local majorities enjoy. At the same time, as I discovered

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in the field, other minorities often accuse the Syrian Orthodox people of being close to the central government.

Meryem Ana (Virgin Mary) Church

The firstday I arrived in Diyarbakir (for Kurdish nation- alists, the capital city of Kurdistan within Turkish borders), in early November 1996, 1 had dinner with (^ayan (fictitious name), a friend of a Kurdish friend who had met me at the airport and showed me around. In town there was only one

remaining Christian community, whereas not very long ago, there had been three well-organized Christian denominations:

Syrians, Armenians and Chaldeans. During dinner Qayan kept telling me that at the beginning of the last century there were two religious councils, one Muslim and one Christian. The head of the Christian Council had to be a Muslim and the head of the Muslim Council a Christian. This narrative is supported

by the account provided by the Capuchin Father Campanile ([1818]2004: 47-48) who visited Diyarbakir in 1818 and de-

scribed it as consistenting of roughly 50,000 people, “30,000 Turks (sic), 20,000 Christians,” and some Jews.

Over the following days Diyarbakir was beautiful, above all at sunset, when the fog was covering the Tigris. At the time, the streets lacked sufficient light and hundreds of Kurd- ish children were begging for money, while beyond the black volcanic rock walls of the old Amida (Amid, the name of the city in ancient sources) stood hundreds of squalid houses. The

reality was that both below and partially intra moenia, shanty camps of refugees had mushroomed, in stark contrast to the villas and apartment blocks of the wealthy areas in the new city.

Street-lighting has improved but not much else has changed in recent years, apart from the fact that some now view the

nearby Regional Government of Kurdistan in northern Iraq,

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122 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

what Kurdish nationalists would call south Kurdistan, as the

prototype of a possible future state.

I met (^ayan regularly throughout November, and by the end of the month he had become (and remains) a key infor-

mant. (^ayan and I visited the Diyarbakir Churches, where I discovered that the Latin motto vicinitas est mater discordiarum, common in the Middle East, truly reflects relations between Christians; closeness, that is, does not mean good intra-Chris- tian relations.

The firsttime I went to see Father Yusuf Akbulut, the only priest in town, at the Syrian Orthodox Church, he was not there. The Syrian Orthodox Church and the adjoining houses are part of a compound surrounded by high walls. Six of the 10 Christian families remaining in the city of Diyarbakir live there. On the church patio I had tea with a Syrian Orthodox, while the priest’s children played around us. Originally from Diyarbakir, the man was living in Istanbul and refused to move back for good because of the conflict and high level of crime in the area. He said he had been robbed three times in the last

two years.
A week later I finally met Abuna Yusuf, who has lived in

Diyarbakir with his family since 1994. We sat outside on a sunny day. While he was talking to me, his children demanded his

attention, screaming and pulling at his clothes. He addressed them in Aramaic, the language of the local Church named for Meryem Ana (Virgin Mary), which is said to have been in use since its foundation in the 3rd century.

The priest today leads a small community comprised of a mix of Christian denominations as well as his own Syriac

Orthodox Church of Antioch, one of the so-called Churches of the Syriac Tradition, whose head is the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Mor Ignatius Zakka, a resident of Damascus15

in what is today Syria. Diyarbakir is part of the Diocese of Mardin, led by Mor Filuksinos Saliba Ozmen, Metropolitan

of Mardin and Diyarbakir, Abbey of Deir ez-Za’faran

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Saffron Monastery, once known as Mor Hananyo), in modern

day Turkey. Today the Christian congregation of Diyarbakir is involved in the jewelry trade (both gold and silver); some

own ovens and some are unemployed. Meanwhile, the once vibrant sericulture sector of the formerly solid Christian com-

munity had disappeared following their migration, since the silk industry was regarded as unsuitable for Muslims. The

first victim was the §al §apik industry, a traditional woven cloth made by Christians and worn by Muslim and Christian men on special occasions (Mollica 2010a). The second victims were the “pushee weavers,” most of whom had been living and working until the 1960s in the center of Diyarbakir, where weaver looms were densely located. Weaving was conducted at almost every house around Meryem Ana Church (Ta§gm 2010). Today, Christians receive some financial relief from diaspora remittances. However, the large imbalance of power makes it futile to conduct a macroanalysis, as the Christians,

in electoral terms, are too demographically insignificant to have any impact. Some Kurdish informants told me that the

Christians are said to collaborate with the authorities; others described them as wealthy, or at least that was the impression they wanted me to have of them.


One of the justifications for the military coup in Turkey on September, 12, 1980, led by General Ahmet Kenan Evren (later appointed President of the Republic), was to put an end to the rise of “extremism.” The extremists meant primarily the follow-

ers of the Nourdjou movement, under whose aegis religious

practice had increased spectacularly, creating turbulence in a state that could not accept a movement guided by Shari’a

principles (Dumond 1985:215-216). However, countering ex- tremism often implied curtailing minorities since, according to

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124 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

the 1982 Turkish Constitution, everyone was equal before the law, regardless of her/his religious or ethnic affiliation, which provided a mechanism to suppress minorities under the pre- text of upholding the individual. In fact, Article 12 affirms that every individual should enjoy all fundamental liberties, while Article 13 counterbalances that by making it possible to limit

freedoms in order to preserve the “integrity” of Turkey.
Post 9/11 political Islamic movements pursue two broad

categories of actions. In some countries they engage in political

violence; in others they generally refrain from doing so. Turkey

is a good example of this second category because, unlike what

is happening in neighboring countries, Islamic movements

in Turkey have thus far substantially refrained from political violence (if we exclude the 2003 HBSC bombing in Istanbul).

The case of Turkey raises stimulating questions that have a broader significance in terms of conflict prevention, but the

ambiguity of its constitutional postulates and the actions of its

leading elites pose serious questions for minorities, as the case of all Diyarbakir Christian denominations illustrates.

One example is the Diyarbakir Evangelical Church, which has been in the city for only 50 years and fronts onto the Syr-

ian Orthodox Church. Inside the Evangelical building a small church was built in 2003. Evangelicals are missionaries, both

foreigners (recently mostly South Koreans) and locals (con- verted Ale vis and Christians from other denominations). Some of them live inside the building on a temporary basis. Relations with the Syrian Orthodox Church are not good, but, as an in- formant told me, “we have other priorities than fighting within our churches.” They are not liked by the government either, but they have been stubborn and built their church despite the government’s resistance. In November 2001 their pastor went on trial for making illegal changes in the architectural plan of the church building, which had been approved by both the

municipality and the Ministry of Culture in February 2001. According to rumors in the Turkish media, the pastor had ap-

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plied for permission to build a home for himself, but secretly intended to convert it into a church.16Evangelicals have tried to make themselves visible, but faced nationalist hostility, which they claimed was fed by the media and politicians.17 In 1999, a member of the Evangelical congregation was arrested for distributing New Testaments in the city and accused of mak- ing adverse comments about the Prophet, but the charges were

later dropped. In 2008, an apparently mentally unbalanced Turk locked himself inside the Evangelical building and set

fireto Bibles and cassette tapes, all the while quoting Quranic verses and saying that he wanted to become a martyr, before he surrendered to the police.18

The three established churches face similar problems. The first,the Diyarbakir Catholic Chaldean community, is made up of two families, and was originally Orthodox before they converted. Abuna Yusuf regularly celebrates Mass at their church, the Chaldean Mar Petyun (St. Antoine) Church; while they attend Orthodox celebrations every Sunday since they do not have their own priest. Second, the Diyarbakir Arme- nian Orthodox community, also consisting of two families, no longer has theirown Church and also attends Syrian Orthodox celebrations. Finally, the largest Christian community is the Diyarbakir (Syrian) Eastern Orthodox Church, whose popu- lation has declined by more than half over the last 10 years,

mostly due to migration. Altogether, there are 70 Christians

in Diyarbakir, of which 60 are Syrians, plus a varying number

of Evangelicals.
The Syrian (Oriental) Orthodox Church is among the four

Eastern Christian Churches19 that comprise the five ancient churches20 in communion with one another. They share in com- mon a rejection of the Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon (Kadikoy in the Asiatic part of Istanbul) in a.d. 451 (Krikorian 2003:114-137), which asserted that Christ is one person with two natures, undivided and unconfused. For them, to say that Christ has two natures is to emphasize His duality

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126 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

and compromise the unity of His person. They prefer instead the formula of St. Cyril of Alexandria, who spoke of “the one

incarnate nature of the Word of God.”21 They became known as

“Jacobite” when the 6th century Bishop Jacob Baradai ordained priests in Edessa to carry on their faith. The bishop greatly

strengthened the church, which made great contributions to

Christian scholarship from its centers in Antioch (Antakya),

Nisibis (Nusaybin) and Edessa (Horner 1989:33-36). Today it is recognized that the Christological differences between the Oriental Orthodox and those who accepted Chalcedon were only verbal, and that both parties profess the same faith using differentformulas (Robertson 1990), as sanctioned by the Rome Declaration of June, 23 1984, signed by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Ignace Zakka.

In the last two centuries, the Syrian Church has suffered

from massacres. First, there were Kurdish uprisings (1843, 1846,

and 1860); then, from 1909 until the 1920s, the Syrian Orthodox

under the Young Turks shared the same ethnic cleansing fate as

the Armenians and Greeks (Horner 1989:33-36). Consequently,

Christians today comprise less than 1% of the country’s popu-

lation. Although religious liberty is theoretically guaranteed, distribution of non-Islamic religious propaganda remains a

crime. Despite their current suffering,many Christian Churches remain in Turkey, recalling their rich historical presence in the past. The issue was clear to Father Santoro. He realized that eastern Turkey in particular deserved special mention because the Christians there were still migrating due to ongoing humili- ation, made worse by the mix of religion and ethnicity in the region, whereas in the southeast, citizenship coincided with a

variety of ethnicities (D’Angelo

2006:75, 83).
Today, there are nine Christian Churches22 in Turkey, the

most prominent being the Syrian Orthodox Church, which numbers between 10,000 and 20,000 members (D’Angelo 2006). Although Turkey was once the dogmatic heart of Christianity, its presence today is diminished because of large-scale migra-

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tion, as is also the case with other Middle Eastern countries. Even though the 1982 Constitution, whose defects rendered it barely compatible with universal democratic norms, was amended in 1995 (Ozbudun and Yazici 2004:42), not much has changed for Christians. At the beginning of the 20th century Christians comprised 32% of the population; now their num- bers are severely reduced as a result of the compulsory migra- tionthatfollowed thefalloftheOttoman Empire, theArmenian genocide and, more recently, the rise of militant Islam. With reference to the “historical region,” at the beginning of the Is- lamic conquest of the 6th century, Christians represented about 95% of the population living in the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Today, they number approximately 12 million (less than 6% of the population), and some foresee that number being halved by 2020 (Allam 2007).

Feeling the Radical Islamic Threat

Kurdish violence in eastern Turkey sought to change the status of the region, but it was also directed against the Christian minority: Kurdish tribes participated in massacres and contributed to the Islamization of the region (Bozarslan


The discourse upon contemporary recourse to

violence by Kurdish paramilitary groups has been described

by Van Bruinessen (2000).23 In both Diyarbakir and the diaspora

I heard stories about massacres from my Kurdish informants, who in turn heard them from their grandparents. The most striking claim was: “if you kill seven Armenians you will enter Paradise.”

Throughout the 1990s Turkey went through a process of mobilization. The radicalization of both Kurds and Islamists

went had-in-hand with the mobilization of both the military establishment and Turkish nationalists. In this context, the Alevi massacres in Sivas (1993) can also be explained (Bozars-

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128 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

lan 2004:91). A recent article by Deliba§ (2009a) shows how the Turkish Islamic movement developed as a response to

socioeconomic and political conditions aggravated by rapid urbanization and economic globalization.

However, already in 1992, Esposito (1992) wrote that Islamic fundamentalism was regarded as a major threat to regional sta- bility in the Middle East. The phrase “Muslim fundamentalist” became a “convenient . . . way for the media and Western gov-

ernments to identify a wide-ranging array of groups” (1992:77). The Turkish government, on the other hand, was “recasting itself as a buffer state . . . against a revolutionary Islam.” The

following assumption was that “if Turkey is not admitted to the European Economic Community … Fundamentalism will find fertile land to flourish in” (1992:200), despite the fact that the U.S. and its European allies may wish to strengthen the Turkish government (1992:246).

In my interviews with Metropolitan Ozmen (the last in May 2010), he described a tense situation all around his Diocese. At

his monastery, where three priests and approximately 40 people live, hospitality is offered to students going to the State School

in Mardin, and Aramaic is taught a few hours each week. The real seminary is in Damascus, however. The situation in Mydiat is much worse than Mardin, as I was told by the Metropolitan of Tur Abdin, Mor Timotheos Samuel Aktas, at the Monastery of St. Gabriel. Fear is everywhere in Mydiat. In one of my first visits, I encountered a Syrian migrant who told me that upon returning for a short holiday from a northern European coun- try,he was asked about his religion almost every day. Another

migrant, planning to return to Mydiat, made things explicit last March when he told me that he was ready to bring back

700,000 Euro, but that research such as mine might jeopardize his return. As we shall later see, a major role is played by the rhetoric of gossip and rumors24 and how events pertaining to Christians are channeled via the media, what Savarese (1995) termed infosuasion, and subsequent reactions to those events

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are portrayed. Regarding the Turkish case, Schiffauer (2001)

argues that contemporary media dynamics cement the very myth of fundamentalism.

Abuna Yusuf, for instance, has received many threats. However, when in the mid-1990s he moved to Diyarbakir with his family from the Christian village of Enward, the situation was good. He used to leave the compound gate open for visi- tors and tourists. Then one day a middle-aged man came and threatened him:

It remindedme ofFatherSantorowhom I knew very well.He toldmehewas readytokillmeandgotoprison for25 years. Later some Muslim authoritiescame to see me. They said theywere deeply sorryand thatthatman was nota trueMuslim.Even theAmericanConsul came. Then a great publicityfollowed. Later on even an EU Delegation and finallythe AmericanAmbassador came. However thePolice did nothingto thosewho threatened me and I am stillworried(Abuna Yusuf).

The Muslim man accused Abuna Yusuf of being like an American and the Americans were in Iraq. The priest replied that he does not differentiate on the basis of religion or eth-

nicity and prays for global peace. The man, before leaving the

compound, addressed him again saying that the priest was a Christian and Christians were in Iraq. Since then Abuna Yusuf

has been harassed continually; people ring his doorbell day and night and his congregation is robbed and insulted on a

regular basis.
Abuna Yusuf’s view of the EU as an institution is positive.

The EU helped him in 2000 when he was arrested and charged under Article 312 of the Turkish Criminal Code for incitement

of religious hatred. The charge was later dropped:

Withoutthe process of integrationour lives would have been much more difficultI. made an officialstate- menton theArmenians.I could stillbe in prisonforthat.

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130 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

Thanks to the EU nothinghappened to me. An EU del- egation took part in each session of the process (Abuna Yusuf).

In an interview for a local newspaper, Abuna Yusuf had said that what happened to the Armenians (i.e., the massacres of 1915) happened to the Syrians too. Soon the Turkish media portrayed him as a traitor.25Then the Syrian Orthodox com- munities in Sweden and Germany received much publicity from Abuna Yusuf’ s trial and sent delegations to Diyarbakir, and even convinced then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the U.S. Congress26 to write letters in his defense. It was a perfect example of what Delia Porta and Tarrow (2005) termed a “coordinated international campaign,” produced by a network (here diaspora) versus a state (here Turkey).

Abuna Yusuf ‘s perception of radical Islamism seemed rep- resentative of an entire community:

IfyoulookatIraq,webelievethatthewarwas not

a positivething.Our communitywas affectedthereand here.We are continuouslyattackedby radical Islamists

(Abuna Yusuf).

In addition, in eastern Turkey, aggressive ethnonational- ism and increasing radicalization intersected and produced casualties or martyrs:

Wegave and continuetogivemartyrsF.ollowingthe speech of Pope BenedictXVI at the Universityof Ratis-

bon [September,12, 2006] a priestof ours [FatherAmer Iskander]was killed [beheaded afterbeing kidnapped in Mosul, Iraq, afterthe kidnappers had asked him to con- demn some controversialwords said by thePope]. Every ChristiankilledinthenameofJesusisa martyr(Metro-


My own views that Christian communities were living under siege have not changed much over the years. Men were

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afraid to even talk, and despite promises of state intervention in their defense, local Kurdish tribes have occupied Christian areas and threatened Christians when they returned.

As forthe EU, Metropolitan Ozmen’s view was more nega- tive than his priest in Diyarbakir:

Despite some help,thereis a feelingofabandonment fromthe European Union. Restorationin my Monastery was possible thanksto EU money and because of pres- sures on Turkeytherewere some changes. But, still,the word “Christian” creates problems (MetropolitanOz- men).

The bishop’s reference to restoration leftme with an indel- ible memory. It was a morning in late 2007. While staying at the Monastery, I saw on the roof of one of the oldest sanctuaries of Christianity some construction workers stop working and start praying towards Mecca. However, the restoration of the Deir ez-Za’faran Monastery was one of the few that were suc-

cessful, partly because of Syriac European lobbying. (They are not as visible as the Armenians but are strong and have many

organizations , some political, working for them.) However, the Syriacs are still viewed by other minorities in eastern Anatolia

as having good relations with the government, which has pre- vented collaboration with Kurds and Armenians. On the other hand, the Turkish government does not differentiate between them and other minorities.

In fact,the reality is that despite the attempt to give minori- ties within the former Ottoman Empire a chance to set up their states at the Treaty of Sevres (1920), the program never went into effectand was later rejected by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The new peace agreement, the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), made no mention of the issue (Kahn 1980:12). On the other hand, the decades that followed concretized Turkish ideas of security, “confused” with defense, and a growing military “distrust” of civilians and politics (Diilger 2005). This attitude continues

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132 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

to be reinforced by an increasingly violent ethnoreligious na- tionalism, above all in eastern Turkey.

My fieldwork during these years dealt with highly sensi- tive issues, with threats and killings of Christians.27 The latter started with Father Andrea Santoro (February, 5 2006), whose name came up on a daily basis during my interviews. In

Santoro’s diary, as reported by D’Angelo (2006), he spoke of rubbish constantly thrown in his garden, provocations, and even aggression, although perpetrated only by a small minor- ity (2006:117-119).

Next came the murder of three evangelical Christians (two Turks and one German) while they were distributing Bibles in Malatya on April, 18 2007. All three had their throats slit.28Here

the targets were both locals and foreigners, thus demonstrating

the perceived trans-national threat represented by Christianity and the Christian West. There was the case of Father Iskander

following the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI that seemed to refer to Islam as “evil” (despite the Pope’s later clarification

that his words were misunderstood). Then Mor Paulos
Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Iraq, was kidnapped and injured on February, 14 2008, while leaving his church in Mosul, named after the Holy Spirit, and later found dead on March, 14 2008.29 Last, on June 3, 2010, at his house in Iskend- erun, Mons. Luigi Padovese, Bishop of Monteverde and Apos- tolic Vicar of Anatolia, was stabbed to death by his driver, who shouted “Allah Akbar” [Allah is greater]30as he committed the murder. This killing has been variously portrayed as an act of madness or a fundamentalist Islamic ritual (via decapitation)

against symbolic evil (via the shedding of blood).
Even recent European events have had an impact on

Christians. On December 4, 2009, three men en- tered the Meryem Ana Church and threatened Abuna Yusuf that unless the bell tower was destroyed in one week, they would kill him. The threat came in response to a November 29, 2009 referendum in Switzerland to ban the construction of

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new minarets. The threats followed a public outcry in Turkey that included newspaper editorials characterizing the Swiss

decision as “Islamophobia.”31

Memory of Fear and Migration

A major consequence of the recent conflict between the

Turkish Army and the PKK was an epochal (internal) migration from eastern Turkey. As already mentioned, it also contributed

to the creation of shanty villages around Diyarbakir. In the early 1990s, some 2,000 villages were deserted as some 2,000,000 Kurds migrated (mostly to western Turkey). By 1995, the wave of migration reached some 3,000,000 people, and Diyarbakir saw its population increase from 300,000 in 1991 to 1,000,000 in 1993 (Imset 1999).

Given the climate of conflict, (international)
became the only option for Christians. Again, it was the alter- native to forced assimilation or what was perceived as ethnic

cleansing. Once settled in their diaspora loci, migrants began to send remittances back home. On the one hand, it was a way

to counterbalance the extended family network of the Sunni Kurdish tribes. On the other hand, it contributed to the creation ofasymmetry ofrelations with local (Sunni) Kurdish communi- ties, since part of the Christian population began to rely on these transnational links and no longer contributed directly to the

local economy. Thus Syrian Christian diaspora relations today help co-religionists restore Tur Abdin Monasteries, which had

become dilapidated from neglect and migration.
The first goal of the Christian religious authorities is to

attain religious and educational freedom. Meetings with rep- resentatives of other religious groups occur on a regular basis and Christians take part in Muslim celebrations as they have done for centuries. However, there are issues that may easily

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134 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

explode again and old Christian fears of assimilation remain as strong as ever. As an informant told me:

No change on issues like mixed marriages.But look

at Europe. Therewas recentlya European girlwho came back with a Muslim boy she met in Europe. She was

Christian.SheisnotChristiananymore.SheisSunninow and dresses like a Muslim girl (informant,Tur Abdin, March 2010).

The tense link between fear and social memory has been

developed by Green (1994). Memories of sufferings as indis- soluble entities with fear came up often in my interviews with Christians in diaspora. Meanwhile, the memories of my infor- mants in the Tur Abdin have returned several times to events that occurred 100 years ago: first,to the winter of 1895-1896, when many Syrian Orthodox areas were attacked; second, to the massacres of 1915 (known as the “Year of the Sword”), when the Young Turks Government played on “security” issues to cleanse eastern Turkey of Christians. Much of the responsibility here lay with the local Muslim population (mostly Kurds) who became fanatical and proclaimed a Holy War (Selis 1988:39-43). Although they were not affected as severely as the Armenians, the Syrian Orthodox lost one-third of their members. Mean- while, the last massacres occurred at the time of the Kurdish rebellion in 1925-1926. All these destructions altered the demo-

graphic patterns: Syrians became refugees, escaping into Syria, Palestine, Iraq, America, and beginning in the mid-1950s, to Istanbul (Brock 2001c: 69-70).

With reference to the Tur Abdin, it was only from the 1960s

onwards that migration began to take on large proportions (Brock 2001c:71-72). In general terms, Syrian Orthodox emigra- tion during the firsthalf of the 20th century was to America, while in the second half it has been to Western Europe, and

above all to Germany (Brock 2001c:69), but also to Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. Emigration to Germany followed

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an agreement in 1961 between the Turkish and (then) West

German governments, which provided incentives for Turkish

workers to seek employment in Germany. However, the flow

of emigration decreased dramatically in 1973 when only those who could claim refugee status were admitted (Brock 2001c:72-

89). The situation in Tur Abdin became unstable in the 1980s,

when the Syrian Orthodox were caught between the Turkish

army and the PKK, and Christian villages were destroyed. Furthermore, matters worsened after 1991 with the infiltration

of Islamic extremists Hezbollah (originally born as a student movement in 1981, Milli Turk Talebe Birligi, Turkish Student National Association), who targeted even leaders in the Syr-

ian Orthodox community, thereby cementing the link between

religion and politics through appeals to religious themes. Hezbollah’s pressure was only one of the reasons behind

Christian migration: political instability, social discrimination, and structural problems (the southeast being one of the poorest

areas of Turkey) also help to explain Christian global migra- tion. A current indicator is the exponential growth of Eastern

Christian dioceses in Europe and America (Caffulli 2007). With reference to the Syrian Christian diaspora in Germany, the link between fear and memory has been developed by Arm-

bruster (2002). The idea of home is linked to a tragic past. It is true, however, that since 2000 a number of Syriacs have begun to return to their former lands. Samur (2009) has suggested that

this is due to Turkey’s Europeanization process and an increase in security in southeastern Anatolia. However, I have recently

studied data gathered from potential returnees and explored the circumstances that motivated them to consider the pros- pect of returning or not: security issues were the main reason for their return (Mollica 2010a). Even today, people have clear dramatic memories of past events. Some informants argued that the situation today is even worse than before. Their nar- ratives are colored by suffering, which often took the form of forced eviction of Christians. The words of my informants are

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136 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

echoed by Mor Aktas, Archbishop of Tur Abdin in Mydiat. In Mydiat, a struggle over land is going on. It has attracted media attention because of its relation to religious authority represen- tation and identity maintenance. The controversy involves the Diocese of Tur Abdin and the local Sunni Kurdish tribe over

the properties surrounding Mor Gabriel Monastery, where the Archbishop of Tur Abdin resides.

Staying On and the Fear of Memory

In 1976, Davies (1976) wrote about Christian involvement in

politics in societies divided by violence. The main question he

considered was: Can Christians participate in violent revolu-

tion and remain Christian? After articulating a list of arguments

for and against Christian involvement, he concluded that any

resort to direct action must be determined after an examination

of the situation; meanwhile Christian ethics does not provide

solutions to what is right in specific circumstances. In the Tur

Abdin, Christians are only elected to the City Council of Mar-

din, and are too few in numbers to make a political impact.

However, some Christians have become involved in violence,

not for any hypothetical Assyrian or Armenian nation, but

paradoxically alongside the PKK against the Turkish Army, as evidenced by non-circumcised guerrilla corpses discovered

after clashes.
Christians in die Tur Abdin, and even more in Diyarbakir,

are deeply affected by the conflict, and sometimes have been forced to take sides despite the Christian religious authori-

ties stressing that everyone’s rights should be respected and peaceful resolutions sought. In other words, if the rights of the

Kurdish minority must be guaranteed, then everyone’s rights

must be guaranteed, including all minorities.
Appeals to religion often indicate a crisis of legitimacy for

the political power, and this logic also applies within the bound-

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aries of radical Islam (Corm 2006:135-136). Today’s Turkey has

permitted a political party inspired by Islamic values to gain

a huge majority, and to rule, thus far,substantially peacefully (2006:200), to the extent that Turkey may well become a role

model for other countries in preventing radical Islam (Mollica

and Deliba§ 2010). However, religiously motivated violence has also impacted Turkey from the Gulf War onwards. Santoro’s murder and the attacks following the papal speech at Ratisbon must be framed not only in terms of a dramatic history,but also within a larger radicalization pattern that has touched many Muslim countries. As far as my Christian informants are con- cerned, they feel as if they are living on a mental borderline. Their growing sense of marginalization must be contextualized within a historiographic frame and considered against national and regional determinants, both within and without Turkey. On the other hand, Turkey had been less than completely open to constitutional changes in favor of its minorities, creating some doubts about the links between today’s explicitly Islamic Turkish government and its perceived passive attitude towards growing radicalization.

As a Kurdish activist informant in diaspora recently ex- emplified:


You have people thatmightjoin theTaleban or Al-Qaeda

and somesmallgroupsareprobablyincontact.However,


that the ofall Islamicmilitants, can not enjoys support you

compareTurkeywithPakistanorIran(informantW,est Flanders,August 2010).

In fact, it would be inappropriate to dismiss Kemalist Turkey as simply a “repressor” of minorities. In an Islamic state, there is in principle no law other than Sharia [the law of Islam]. Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, took an opposite view (Lewis 2002:72), adopting secularism as a

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138 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

principle (2002:106), while all other Middle Eastern countries gave constitutional status to Islam (2002:108). With regard

to suicide bombers, notwithstanding the exceptions, Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, attempted to take a stand and discourage suicide (Jacobs: 1982, 44-45). There is no Quranic support for taking one’s life to kill innocents (Anees 2006:275-

279). However, Sunni revivalists made an ideology of martyr- dom central to their program.32 Meanwhile, the success of the

Ummah [Muslim community] depended on the willingness to carry out Jihad [Holy War] (Cormack 2002: xi-xv). Any force

which opposes the sovereignty of God is thus a legitimate focus (2002:107-117).

Turkish Islam is not a monolithic entity,however. There has

been a growth of integralism alongside the recent growth of the much more tolerant Sufi movements. Father Padovese, in

an interview given not long before his killing, explained that part of the intolerance towards Christians was due to the fact that Christianity was extraneous to both Islam and its present society.33Even though Christian communities, above all in Ana- tolia, were part and parcel of the cadre of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, and that many Kurdish and Syrian families in eastern Turkey still maintain common tribal and family origins

(Corm 1989:268), Christianity has nonetheless become associ- ated with the occupation of the Western powers.

The current mayor of Diyarbakir (who is often on trial for his alleged ties to the PKK) has publicly declared that he wants the Christians to come back to the city. He has received presents for these declarations from the same Christians. Re-

cently the district Municipality of Sur in Diyarbakir has made an effortto entice Christians back by changing the names of

three streets to honor Armenian and Syriac authors.34 The

Municipality of Diyarbakir also officially respects religious differences, emphasizing in tourist pamphlets that the city has “not forgotten religious tolerance” and that “various religions found a hospitable environment” here (The City of Stones and

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dreams 2004). This aligns with a common trend (consistent with

the official positions of some local public administrations), to be found in the wider Tur Abdin area in relation to return mi-

gration attempts. However, my findings on Christians living both in diaspora and in the southeast show that these people

are experiencing a growing sense of fear, although mitigated in some areas. Those who are willing to come back are afraid

to embark out of fear that their actions will not be supported by a stable and sustainable peaceful environment. Those who are forced to stay share an even greater fear, similar to the one I have seen with Christians living in south Lebanon.

The generalized risk of investing, ancient fears, and long-

standing perceptions ofthreattoChristians and theirproperties has made the representatives and mediators of transnational

links and local and central relations wary. It is undeniable that the latter have found their way to get into the media intersecting with the same AKP political agenda. In recent years, Christians

have been killed when changes concerning religious issues

came up on the AKP political program, e.g., changes in dress code behavior. Ironically, correlations between the killings and

the AKP agenda were brought to my attention by both Kurdish Sunni Muslims and Syrian Christian informants. On top of that,

the clandestine Ergenekon organization that has been agitating in Turkey in recent years had alleged plans to kill the Greek

Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew,35 which would have been

dramatic enough in its impact to challenge the Islamic ruling AKP – with its neo-Ottoman and religiously oriented vision of

modern Turkey (Van Bruinessen 2009).


Security-related issues represent a common concern for Christian communities living in religiously mixed Middle

Eastern areas. In Asia Minor, centralized entities (states) often

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140 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

have problems in controlling decentralized areas and guaran- teeing security for their inhabitants, which leads to increased segregation and distrust towards the State. The State’s weak- nesses exacerbate social divisions which, at a local level, are manifested in issues of property law, where land has become an extension of the ethnoreligious calling. Here, the fears of the

ancient minority are the fears of today’s minority, crystallized in the minorities’ resistance to a growing aggressive ethno-

nationalism and mirrored in their victimization. In the case of the Christians, the historical actors changed, but the results were often the same.

This Diyarbakir ethnography looked at the stability of models of mutual tolerance in plurireligious societies, against

changing demographies, fluctuating alliances and unstable degrees of religious loyalties. The latter are major determinants that impact upon Christians, who vacillate between feeling

a part of the state and feeling forgotten. Thus, key questions to be asked are: What is the function of the State if Christian

minority activism is constrained by fear? What happens when

the ethnographer’s role is perceived to potentially cause more harm than good, especially when the focus is mainly on the

victims’ perspectives? Still the ethnographer ought not to shy

away from contributing to understanding a vital issue in the wider Middle East scenario, the basis of security for Christian

First of all, we must dismantle the romantic idea of Christian

enclaves living in a sort of splendid isolation. As the case of the Christians living in the Tur Abdin proves, these people no longer live under the millet36but are part and parcel of larger

regional phenomena that interact continuously in their daily lives. Second, the narratives that I have discussed were screened

for gossip and took into account migratory patterns (includ-

ing attempts at return) as well as ongoing ideological changes. Clearly, however, Christians have come to accept that the old

splendor cannot come back, and the most they can hope for is

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to live peacefully in a land that was always characterized by diversity. Third, the media have a major influence on public perceptions ofreligious issues. An audience already frustrated by socioeconomic deprivation is a vulnerable target for mes-

sages that easily legitimate the use of violence, especially when such an audience has limited knowledge of the issues, and

particularly when religion is used to support a political regime

(either tacitly or overtly).
As documented elsewhere in the Middle East (Aburish

1993), when Christians in Turkey realized that emigration led

to a more risk-freelife,they leftwhen given the chance, mostly for Western Europe. However, as is common in many Middle Eastern areas ofChristian resistance (Mollica 2008), informants would also blame the West for their problems, not only because they felt forgotten by those whom they saw as their counter- parts, but also because they feltincreasingly distant in terms of catechetical teachings and practices. As Asad (2007:96) pointed out, Western scholars aggravate the situation by explaining

violence in religious terms as an “expression” of a “perverted Islam.” Moreover, as Dingley (2010:100-111) noted recently, some keep explaining terrorism as decontextualized from its environment and outside its socioeconomic and political con- texts. Such approaches are too often embraced by many West-

ern political elites. However, violent acts, above all religiously motivated acts of violence, do not occur by chance, nor are they detached from historical or spatial contexts. On the contrary, they must be interpreted in relation to the wider context that

to a certain degree is shaping and influencing them.


I acknowledge the support of the European Commission under the

Marie Curie Intra-EuropeanFellowship Programmeand the support of the SOMS Fundation. I am also gratefulto JamesDingley,Italo Pardo,

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142 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 40(1-2),2011

Giuliana Prato,Eric Umile and the two anonymous reviewersfortheir criticalcomments.

1 2

3 4


The choice of Diyarbakiras the main researchlocation was for academic reasons.I worked as Marie Curie Fellow in thecityfrom 2006 to 2007 and as SOMS Fellow from2008 to 2009. In 2009 and 20101was a visitingmemberofstaffatthelocalDicle University. Makdisi (2000) proved how in multi-religiousLebanon the old fashionedidea ofmillennium-longviolencebetweencompeting sectswas unsustainable.On theconsociationalquestioninethno- religiousdivided societiessee also Lijphart(1999),Kerr(2005) and O’Leary (2009).

See, for instance, the work of Van Bruinessen (1989) on the Kurds.
TheChurchesoftheSyriacTraditionareunitedbya commonSyriac

culturaland linguisticheritage.Theyare:theSyrianOrthodox Church;theMalankara SyrianOrthodoxChurch;theMalankara

OrthodoxSyrianChurch;theMalabar IndependentSyrianChurch; the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar; the Syriac Catholic Church;theMalankara SyrianCatholicChurch;theMaroniteAn- tiochianSyriacChurch;theChaldean Church;theSyro-Malabar Catholic Church; the Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East;theAncientChurchoftheEast (Brock2001b:13-14).Forthe historyoftheSyrianOrthodoxChurchsee Frend(1972),Gregory (1979),Krikorian(2003),Brock(2001a,b, c).

Herodotus referredto Aramaic as the internationalanguage of

diplomacy (Brock2001c:122).
Heremeaninga Semiticpeople thatsettledintheMiddle Eastinthe 12thcenturyB.C.,firstmentionedin theAnnales ofTeglat-Phalasar ofAssyria(1141-1076B.C.) (Selis 1988:11-42). FortheaftermathoftheTreatyofLausanne ineasternTurkeysee Chaliand (1978).
Data based on a UNHCR report(see www.usatoday.com/news/ world/iraq/2010-06-01-iraq-christianNs.htm).
These included: Grounds for the Restrictionof Fundamental Rightsand Liberties,TheAbuse ofFundamentalRightsand Liber- ties,PersonalLibertyand SecurityF,reedomofReligion,Freedom ofAssociationand FreedomofAssembly(Ozbudun and Yazici 2004:15-21).

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5 6

7 8 9


10 11

12 13

14 15

16 17 18 19


21 22

See, forexample, Wilson and Wilson (1945) and Gluckman (1965).
For a chronologicalcoverage of the debate see Giordano (n.d.). GiordanoidentifietshreemainthemesonAnthropologyofMediter-

ranean:(1) patronageand politicalpractices;(2) historyand thepast inthepresent;and(3)honor,statusandgenderrelationshipsT.hey have lost none of theirrelevance,althoughtheypose conceptual differencewsithinthemanyMediterraneansocieties.

On fundamentalismin Turkeysee Zubaida (1989),Eickelmanand

Piscatori(1996),Cagaptay (2006) and Sayginand Onal (2008).
I use thecase ofArabChristiansfortworeasons:(1) circumstanc- es are similarbetweenvarious Middle EasternChristianenclaves andbeingthatArabChristiancommunitiesarethemoststudied,

much can be applied by analogy to othergroups; and (2) many Christiansin southeasternAnatolia are Arab or Arab speakers,

whileArabiciswidelyspokeninthesameMardin,includingDeir ez-ZavfaranMonastery.
See Brubakerand Cooper (2000) and Brombergerand Durand (2001). ThePatriarchatweasmovedfromplacetoplaceinSyriaforseveral centuries.In the 13thcenturyit was located at the monasteryof Deirez-ZavfaranT.henitwasmovedtoHoms,Syria,andin1959 toitspresentsite,Damascus (Horner1989:33-36).

See www.worthynews.com/2050-turkish-pastor-put-on-trial-in- diyarbakir.

See www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/ eav42507.shtml.

See /2004/08/
www.jihadwatch.org turkey-deranged-turk-attacks-

The AssyrianChurchoftheEast,theOrientalOrthodoxChurches,

theOrthodoxChurchand theEasternCatholicChurches(Robertson


The ArmenianApostolic Church,the Coptic Orthodox Church,

theEthiopianOrthodoxChurch,theMalankara OrthodoxSyrian

Churchand theSyrianOrthodoxChurch(Robertson1990:14-16).

Forthisreasontheyhave erroneouslybeen called “monophysite,” fromtheGreekword meaning”one nature.”

Two pre-Calcedonian (Syrian Orthodox Church and Armenian

ApostolicChurch),one Nestorian(theAssyrianChurchoftheEast), threein communionwithRome althoughkeepingtheirOriental

rituals(Chaldean Church,SyrianCatholicChurch,Armenian CatholicChurch),theRomanCatholicChurch,theGreekOrthodox

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24 25

26 27


29 30

31 32

33 34


Church,a populationofapproximately4,000Protestant(sD’ Angelo 2006:98,102-103,106),and an undeterminednumberofChristian

immigrants. VanBruinessen(2000)identifiedfourmaintypesofPKK violence:

towardtheKurdish withtheTurkish and in- (1) collaborating Army

telligence;(2) towardmilitiaforcesopposing Kurdishparamilitary

forces;(3) towardsupporterosfcompetingKurdishparamilitary forces;and (4) towardneutralpeasantsforcedtosupportthePKK.

The lattercategoryincludes inhabitantsof Christianvillages in

southeasternTurkey(Mollica 2010a).
Deliba§ (2009b) foundthattwo-thirdsofTurksbelieve in rumors. On October4, 2006 Hurriyetpublished an articlewitha photo of

FatherYusuf,labeling him A TraitorAmong Us (www.aina.org/

A U.S. Congressionalletterwas addressed toAhmetNecdet Sezer

(thenPresidentofTurkey)and to Madeleine Albright(thenU.S.

Secretaryof State) (www.aina.org/releases/2000/sezeralbright. htm).
I omitherekillingsnotdirectlyrelatedtovictims’religiousactivities


oftheArmenianjournalistHrantDink on January19,2007 in Is-


See / / /articles/eav042507. www.eurasianet.orgdepartmentsinsight

See Guolo (2008) and Ricupero (2008).

See www.corriere.it/esteri/10_giugno_07/padovese-omicidio- rituale_al3866cc-723b-lldf-9357-00144f02aabe.shtml; www.

repubblica.it/esteri/2010/06/07/news/padovese_omicidio_rit- uale-4640317/; www.corriere.ite/steri/10_giugno_05p/apa-visita-


shtml; esteri/2010/06/03/news/ucciso_mon- www.repubblica.it/

See www.compassdirect.ore/english/country/turkey/12559/. Revivalists’ ideas on Jihaddifferfromclassical doctrinein three

ways: (1) theyemphasize the superiorityof physicalJihadover spiritualJihad(;2) undermodernconditionsparticipatinginJihad becomes a duty incumbenton all Muslims; and (3) the focus of Jihadis away fromexternalenemies and toward theirown gov-

See www.repubblica.it/esteri/2010/06/03/news/ucciso_monsi- gnore-4543029/.
See www.ninweh.com/forum/index.php?topic=10854.0.

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  1. 35  See www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.do?load=detay&lin k=208263.
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