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Hur­müz and Şimoni Diril, a Syr­i­ac cou­ple from the vil­lage of Mehre (Kovankaya in Turk­ish) in the dis­trict Beytüşşe­bap of the South­east­ern province of Şır­nak have dis­ap­peared since Jan­u­ary 11.

Remzi Diril, the priest of the Istan­bul Chaldean Church is their son and he is the one who report­ed the dis­ap­pear­ance of his par­ents last Jan­u­ary 11. The cou­ple resides both in the vil­lage of Mehre and in Istan­bul. Mehre is locat­ed in a dif­fi­cult moun­tain­ous region that is also a mil­i­tary zone, access to which is for­bid­den. Only a few peo­ple live in the tiny vil­lage and they are also rel­a­tives of the couple.

Fam­i­ly mem­bers vis­it­ing Hur­müz and Şimoni on Jan­u­ary 11 first noticed their absence. They set out search­ing with their own means, after which they sig­naled the dis­ap­pear­ance to the gen­darmerie who then began searches…

On Jan­u­ary 16, fol­low­ing the news of the cou­ple’s dis­ap­pear­ance the office of the pros­e­cu­tor con­duct­ing the inquest imposed an ordi­nance of con­fi­den­tial­i­ty on the matter…

An ordinance of confidentiality on the file

Tuna Çelik, Syr­i­ac deputy from the Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (HDP) declared on Feb­ru­ary 3: “Three or four days after the inci­dent, neigh­bours are report­ed as say­ing that the cou­ple was kid­napped. Why did they not say this from the out­set? Accord­ing to their state­ments ‘three per­sons, includ­ing a woman, kid­napped the cou­ple’. A tech­ni­cal search was con­duct­ed on the basis of this state­ment, but it gave no results.”

The fam­i­ly’s con­cern cov­er many areas, since the dis­ap­pear­ance involves two Syr­i­acs, mem­bers of a Chris­t­ian minor­i­ty liv­ing main­ly in the South­east­ern part of the coun­try. Remzi Diril under­lines that, giv­en win­ter con­di­tions, search­es are dif­fi­cult and even impos­si­ble at times, with heavy snow­falls and risks of avalanches.

Tuna Çelik adds “More­over, the fact the pros­e­cu­tor’s bureau impos­es an ordi­nance of con­fi­den­tial­i­ty on the file rais­es many ques­tions. Accord­ing to the infor­ma­tion I received from the dis­trict gov­er­nor, a tech­ni­cal search is under­way. (…) If the State can­not find the cou­ple who has dis­ap­peared for 24 days in such a zone, that means it is inca­pable of doing so. I do not believe that Turkey is inca­pable of this, which means the search is insuf­fi­cient. I do not think the State is con­duct­ing the required search­es and sal­vage oper­a­tions with all of its instruments.”

The fears of the Syriac population

As Bru­cu Karaks from DW informs us, after meet­ing the Syr­i­ac pop­u­la­tion, they are worried.

Aziz Demir, the muhtar (the vil­lage offi­cial) in the vil­lage of Kafro, Mardin dis­trict, is a Syr­i­ac from the region who was forced to leave his native land in 1985. He was also one of the first to return to Turkey in the years 2000.

We feared assim­i­la­tion in Europe, this is why we decid­ed to return”, he says. He adds they did not real­ly receive any aid, either in Europe where there is an impor­tant Syr­i­ac dias­po­ra, or from the Turk­ish State. “Some destroyed vil­lages were rebuilt. Our home­com­ings were impor­tant but, apart from a few excep­tions, we received no aid. Even for the infra­struc­ture, we man­aged by our­selves with no State aid. We were 16 fam­i­lies, and each one invest­ed ten thou­sand euro for the infra­struc­ture Same thing for the side­walks, we invest­ed thir­ty thou­sand euro.”

Fifty thou­sand Syr­i­acs live in Turkey, some three thou­sand of whom live in South­east­ern Ana­to­lia. Dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days, an esti­mat­ed five thou­sand Syr­i­acs liv­ing abroad return momentarily.

Kafro, Demir’s vil­lage, was emp­tied of its inhab­i­tants in 1994 and remained unin­hab­it­ed until 2006. Accord­ing to Aziz, an impor­tant num­ber of Syr­i­acs liv­ing in Europe long to return to their native land, but they do not dare to do so. “We see no future here,” says Aziz, “the econ­o­my is a prob­lem, pol­i­tics, anoth­er. You can’t man­age to look ahead. What would a youth do set­tling here? Still, they are filled with nos­tal­gia and long to return.”

He relates a mem­o­ry that still weighs on his heart. Dur­ing the inau­gru­a­tion of the church built in the vil­lage, secu­ri­ty forces told him, con­cern­ing deputy Tuma Çelik “he had bet­ter not come, if he comes, you will be held respon­si­ble! “Aziz says he was vexed: “They treat him like a ter­ror­ist. Why should he not come, isn’t he the deputy?”

As a Syr­i­ac who has returned to the fold sev­er­al years lat­er, he also has a demand, “I am also a cit­i­zen of this coun­try. The State must then respect my rights. Why is it that Syr­i­ac is not also accept­ed as an offi­cial language?”

Aziz Demir con­sid­ers the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Diril cou­ple wor­ri­some… He recalls the recent arrest of a priest. Sefer Bileçen, the priest of Mor Hakup Church, a monastery some 1 500 years old, was tak­en into cus­tody in Nusay­bin dur­ing an inquest on the fight against ter­ror­ism. The min­utes of the inquest dat­ed in 2018 con­tained the alle­ga­tion that “ter­ror­ists entered the monastery” and served to accuse him of “sup­port­ing a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion” (mean­ing the PKK). Last Jan­u­ary 10, the tri­bunal in Mardin decid­ed to jail him. “I think it is intim­i­da­tion. Why would some­thing that occurred a year and a half ago sud­den­ly resur­face in the news? I inter­pret what is going on as mean­ing ‘any­thing can hap­pen tomor­row’. The State can intimidate.”

Rahip Bileçen

As for Evil Türk­er, he is the Pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­a­tion of Syr­i­ac Asso­ci­a­tions. He was one of the per­sons in con­tact with author­i­ties dur­ing priest Bileçen’s cus­tody. He also points out events of the recent months, indi­cat­ing his con­cern. Evgil Türk­er also think the State want­ed to intim­i­date the priest, “but there has been a strong and unex­pect­ed reac­tion in pub­lic opin­ion”, he says…

Con­cern­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Hur­müz and Simoni Diril cou­ple, Evgil Türk­er notes that some claim there are ele­ments indi­cat­ing a kid­nap­ping against a ran­som. “If that were the case, why keep silent for close to 20 days?” he asks. He also indi­cates that very few Syr­i­acs live in these fron­tier vil­lages and that, fol­low­ing these events, they may decide to leave the region.

March 21, 2020

The body of Şimoni Diril was found in a riv­er near their vil­lage on the 70th day of the disappearance.

A few years ago, the web­site “Turquie Européenne” pub­lished a study by his­to­ri­an and jour­nal­ist Sébastien de Cour­tois. It pro­vides a very thor­ough doc­u­ment­ed look at the sit­u­a­tion, no mat­ter what the kedi may think of “reli­giosi­ties”.


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.