Three Assyrian Christians were detained by Turkish forces on January 9, according to a UK-based persecution watchdog.
One of the men placed under arrest is Father Sefer Bileçen, who has been looking after the 1500-year-old “Mor Yakub Monastery” in Mardin province for several years.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the two other Christians arrested were Joseph Yar, chair of the town’s council, and Musa Taştekin from Dibek village.
Father Aho has been accused of providing food and water to righters fro the People’s Defence Forces — the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey deems a terrorist faction.
“They accuse us of feeding the PKK when they knock at our doors carrying their guns,” a source in the Assyrian Christian community told CSW. 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.”
The ancient Assyrian Christians face relentless persecution as a result of their distinct cultural heritage. For example, many of those who identify as part of this ethnic minority speak Aramaic — the very language uttered by Jesus Christ himself.
In recent years, the Assyrians were also brutally persecuted at the hands of ISIS militants.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said his organization was “deeply concerned” by the arrests. “We urge the Turkish government to release Father Aho and Mr Joseph Yar immediately, and to allow their lawyers free access to all documents and testimonies related to their case,” Thomas added.
“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.”