The Assyrian monk Sefer (Aho) Bileçen – who leads Mor Yacoub Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Mardin province in Turkey – has been sentenced to two years and one month imprisonment on the allegation of “being a member of an organisation”.
The reason for his sentence was for providing food and water to allegedly two Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) when they knocked on the door of his monastery in 2018. After the decision was announced, Aho’s lawyers filed an appeal with the Diyarbakır Regional Court of Justice.
Assyrian organisations and human rights defenders have reacted to the court’s ruling and launched an online petition, “Free Monk Aho”.
The European Syriac Union (ESU) initiated the campaign which now also has the support of Sweden’s Christian Democrat Party Deputy Lars Göran Peter Adaktusson, Göppingen’s Suruçlu Mor Yakup Church, Mor Efrem and Mor Theodoros Church, the Kirchhain Bible Society, Kano Suryoyo, the German Syriac Union Federation (HSA), the Syriac-Germany Association, the Turabdin Development Associations Federation (DETA), the Netherlands Assyrian Federation and the Turabdin Platform and Assyrian Youth formation.
“This decision causes fear amongst the Assyrian community in Turkey since this is the first time that a priest has been punished like that”, noted Assyrian journalist David Vergili, also an executive member of the European Syriac Union (ESU).
Speaking to Mesopotamia Agency, Vergili stated that Assyrians are taking action against the “unjust sentence” given to Monk Aho. So far, thousands of people have expressed their support for the “Freedom for Monk Aho” campaign.
“What Monk Aho did was to act according to his beliefs. His faith bans rejecting the call of someone asking for food and help. An Assyrian Christian monk is supposed the help those who are in need – no matter who they are”, Vergili said.
Vergili concluded that the punishment of Monk Aho is a continuation of the oppression that Assyrians have been subjected to in Turkey. “Syriac people had to migrate from their villages in the 2000s. They want to come back now, but these incidents raise more concerns as they hope to return”, Vergili added.
“Assyrian properties in Mardin were transferred to the Diyanet (the Directorate of Religious Affairs in Turkey) and this has caused great concern amongst Assyrians. Then, converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Turkey and the ongoing attacks in North and East Syria in which Assyrian villages are also located has raised their concerns even more. Now, this prison sentence given to Monk Aho has caused more fear”.
“Assyrians in Turkey are now more interested in politics in Turkey,” Vergili observed. Assyrian institutions will organise protests in the upcoming period for Monk Aho in front of the European Parliament. Vergili appealed to human rights defenders and Assyrian communities living in Europe: “All Assyrians should support our campaign and take action: we will continue to struggle to reverse the decision”.