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Cablegate: Syriac Christians, Some Dehap Mayors Skeptical About Reform

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 ADANA 000105

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM PTER ECON IZ TU ADANA
SUBJECT: SYRIAC CHRISTIANS, SOME DEHAP MAYORS SKEPTICAL ABOUT REFORM

REF: A. ANKARA 03976

B. A) ANKARA 03976
C. A) ANKARA 03976 B) ADANA 0067


1.(SBU) Summary: Syriac Christian contacts and recently-elected
DEHAP mayors in Mardin and Sirnak provinces expressed deep
skepticism about GOT sincerity in implementing the raft of
reform legislation passed in the last year and a half. They
called for "real language reform and cultural rights," with
Syriac Christian contacts noting that return rates for western
European resident-Syriacs are dropping off and religious freedom
in Turkey for their community is little improved. Low scale
reportedly PKK/KONGRA GEL terror attacks continue across
southeast Turkey. Attacks in late July and early August have
been concentrated in Tunceli, Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin
provinces, still featuring regular use of land mines or
improvised explosive devices (IED's) (ref. A.) Reports of
regional residents' protests against the return of PKK/KONGRA
GEL violence are declining. (ref.B.) End Summary.

Syriac Christians cite obstacles to village resettlement in
Sirnak
--------------------------------------------- --------------
-------

2.(SBU) On August 4, PO visited the disputed former Syriac
community Sari (sometimes called Sarekoye) village in western
Sirnak province. The Sirnak governor ordered it vacated as of
late July. It was inhabited by about 150-200 Kurdish villagers,
almost all of whom were related to the approximately 20 village
guards working in the village, which sits on a
locally-significant military location along a major E-W road.
Villagers expressed a desire to "co-exist" with Syriac
Christians who wish to return and claimed that they had resided
in the village prior to the 1994 departure of the Syriac
community. They showed that they had padlocked the Syriac
Christian church in the village to prevent damage or looting in
the Syriac community's absence. Nevertheless, they said that
since the Sirnak governor's departure order, only five of the
village's 30 families had decided to leave and that the other 25
families were staying, saying that the "government has not shown
us where we would go and how we would rebuild elsewhere."

3.(SBU) In later August 4 discussions with senior Syriac
Christian religious figures, PO was told that the Kurdish
villager claims to the village were "all lies. They were moved
to Sari in the mid-1990's by the Army," one contact stressed.
"They lived almost 30 kilometers away when our community left.
The village guards make all their money there illegally
harvesting wood, tapping the (BOTAS) northern Iraq pipeline,
which passes nearby, and illegally renting pasture land to
nomads," he said. (Note: AMCON ADANA cannot confirm the ground
trace of the pipeline with the level of precision confirming
such a claim would require. End Note.) Asked whether they
thought that the potential Syriac community returnees would
"co-exist" with the existing villagers, the contacts stressed
that such an option was out of the question, claiming "Sari is
ours, always was ours and we want it all back." They did note,
however, that the broader Syriac Christian community in Mardin
and Sirnak provinces is comprised of about half exclusively
Syriac villages and half mixed villages of Kurds, Turks, Arabs,
Yazidis and Syriac Christians. (Note: one Syriac community
contact suggested that Sari also might be a village where one of
the Syriac Bishop's lay staff lived in the past. End Note.)

4.(SBU) Asked about a Syriac diaspora letter to the diplomatic
community in which there is mention of Syriac willingness to pay
75,000 euro to the GOT to ensure the village is vacated, the
senior Syriac Christian contacts replied that there was genuine,
albeit reluctant, willingness to meet the Sirnak governor's
proposal, but the governor himself had advised the Syriac
community not to deposit the funds to date because the villagers
refused to depart. (Note: the funds would have been deposited in
a GOT account to support village services devoted to relocating
the existing village population, according to the Syriac
contacts. End Note.) The senior Syriac Christian contacts
summed up by saying that the village's problems stemmed from a
combination of village guards who enjoyed the local hegemonic
position they garnered by occupying the high ground around the
village and the complicity of local Jandarma, whom they alleged
had been shielding the villagers from GOT pressure to vacate and
sharing in the village guards' revenue-raising endeavors.
(Note: The local Jandarma commander reportedly rotated to a new
assignment in late July and his successor only arrived a week
ago. There may be a connection to the timing of the recent
Syriac diaspora circular on Sari. Perhaps the Syriac community
has calculated that this is an opportune time to increase
pressure on the GOT. End Note.)

Syriac diaspora "stunned" by killing in Mardin province
--------------------------------------------- ----------

5.(SBU) Senior Syriac Christian contacts also said that their
community's slow, but steady return to Mardin province in the
last year has been stunted by the July 15 killing of a Syriac
Christian head man or muhtar in a village near Dargecit in
Mardin. The muhtar was the sole remaining Syriac in the village
and had been protecting diaspora land rights in the area. He
was popular with local Kurds who had elected him to his
position, despite his de facto minority position in the local
community. The contacts claimed that a loyalist Kurdish leader
in the area who had eloped almost 25 years earlier with a Syriac
bride and who had tried to use that relationship to gain
ownership of her diaspora familiy's land had persuaded two
recently-returned young Syriac males to kill the muhtar (through
an unclear method). The two subsequently had been arrested and
convicted for the killing and the local Kurdish leader was
pressing his land claim again.

6.(SBU) The senior Syriac Christian contacts then said that the
effect of the killing on the Syriac diaspora had been
"chilling," that the community in western Europe had written to
senior GOT leaders and that "virtually no one in the community"
was considering return to Mardin or Sirnak "in the present
circumstances."

Lack of Syriac language rights also fuels skepticism
--------------------------------------------- -------

7.(SBU) Senior Syriac Christian contacts also pointed to the
lack of an ability to teach Aramaic to their community's
children or see its inclusion or Syriac cultural content in
public school curriculums in the region as evidence of a lack of
"real" GOT commitment to reform. "Nothing has really changed,"
the contact said, "(the GOT) is just scribbling any words on
paper that they think the EU wants to hear right now." Asked
whether they had initiated proposals for such native language
curriculum to the GOT, the contacts said that a small Syriac
group in Istanbul was trying to develop such a curriculum, but
the program had just started in the last two months.

DEHAP mayors in Mardin, Sirnak share skepticism
--------------------------------------------- --

8.(SBU) In August 3-4 meetings with PO, newly-elected DEHAP
mayors in Mardin and Sirnak provinces, where the party garnered
the majority of local municipalities, expressed deep skepticism
that reform implementation would be forthcoming from the GOT.
When asked for good news, mayors cited reduced reports of
alleged torture in the last year, attributing this change to
broader public awareness of the right to an attorney upon
detention and reduced pre-trial detention times. However, they
were quick to continue (in the words of one mayor whose tone was
echoed by others in different meetings) that "until the
government recognizes there is a Kurdish question in Turkey,
there will never be stability in the (southeast) region."
Mayors pointed to a deep and widespread Kurdish community desire
to see Kurdish language radio and television broadcast freedoms
in private and public outlets as a bedrock community milestone
for reform. Instead, they said the GOT-trumpeted brief public
broadcasts of fifteen minutes in Kurdish on state-run television
are a mere "token gesture," completely undermining any Kurdish
community confidence in "real and lasting reform."

GOT attitudes are not changing either
-------------------------------------

9. (SBU) One mayor, saying that even more important than "paper
change," was change in the attitudes of appointed GOT officials,
described a phenomenon reported more broadly in the region: GOT
unwillingness to include elected mayors in the governing process
of their communities. He said that, since his Spring 2004
election, only the local sub-provincial Security Director, in a
brief office call, had acknowledged his election to office. He
had been excluded from municipal meetings, not invited to any
Government officials' offices and not informed of any decisions
on municipal matters, which government officials were deciding
for themselves. His DEHAP colleagues echoed this same exclusion
from exercising their office since their respective elections.
In another example of GOT attitudes limited only to one
municipality, a mayor showed PO how the local sub-governor had
delivered to the mayor his new municipal identification card
with the sub-governor's name written in large script across the
mayor's photo. "This is how they want to tell me who is in
charge," the mayor said.
Finally, a Sirnak province DEHAP mayor described his recent
transit of Diyarbakir two weeks earlier, returning from a
Tunceli cultural festival, which he said "was broken up by
police." He said, when near the Mardin gate of Diyarbakir, a
"helicopter was circling over the neighborhood shooting into
houses." When he said he stopped to ask what was happening,
police told him the neighborhood was closed and that security
officials recently had been killed in the area, pressing him to
continue onward in his travel, which he did. (Note: this
account generally tracks with credible reports of the first few
days of a GOT counter-terrorist operation in that part of
Diyarbakir city. GOT helicopter use cannot be corroborated.
The GOT, however, does have several transport/utility
helicopters based in Diyarbakir. End Note.) He said that the
experience left him "feeling discouraged about where the region
was headed."

Another DEHAP mayor arrested after his election
--------------------------------------------- --

10. (SBU) A Mardin province DEHAP mayor described how he had
returned from almost a decade of residence in an EU country in
early Spring 2004 to run for mayor in his home community. He
said that, upon his return, no action was taken against him,
despite his earlier arrest and alleged torture when mayor in the
same town during the Evren coup-era. Nevertheless, he said that
he was arrested by "the Army and Jandarma" the night after being
elected on charges of being a PKK member, which he denied. He
said that he was treated humanely when in detention, allowed
access to an attorney, but questioned "over and over again by
Army sergeants with photos of me talking to PKK members in
Iran." He said that prosecutors and judges whom he saw during
his few days of detention said to him that his arrest would not
"hold up in court," but that GOT security forces were
"determined to press their case against him." He said that he
was released after several days and is still now facing an
ongoing trial. He told PO that he was not a PKK/KONGRA GEL
member, but had a close family member in PKK/KONGRA GEL. He
said he had flown to Iran from the EU nation to try
unsuccessfully to persuade him to leave the organization.

11.(SBU) Asked how things had changed since his return from the
EU nation, he said that there were fewer reports of torture, of
which he was pleased, but that the GOT was "as determined as
before" to exclude anything Kurdish from public life. He said
that he wanted to see his grandchildren taught Kurdish in
school, watch a Kurdish-language television show not broadcast
from Iraq or western Europe (Note: samples of which he switched
on his television in his office to demonstrate. End Note.), be
able to speak Kurdish in public political rallies and meetings,
and gather at a Kurdish cultural festival without fear of police
or Jandarma arresting and beating people. He said that "those
days are not here yet." He specifically noted that he wants
nothing to do with separatism, actively speaks against notions
of a greater Kurdistan and "just wants to be a Kurdish citizen
of the Turkish republic." He also said that there was no
economy in eastern Mardin, which discouraged him. He was trying
to focus on building roads and a children's park in his town, as
well as encouraging grape cultivation for a new Syriac
community-financed wine production center elsewhere in Mardin.

12.(SBU) The Mardin province DEHAP mayor echoed Syriac concerns
about the negative role he sees the continuing village guard
system playing in village resettlement and regional
reconciliation. He said that the village guards were behind a
July 2004 attack in his town, even though the GOT attributed the
attack to PKK/KONGRA GEL. "It would be the most well-aimed PKK
attack ever, (Note: from a GOT perspective. End Note.)" he said,
"were the Government to be right. It shot up the parts of the
police station where no one was, shooting along the roofline in
an almost perfect straight line and not knocking out a single
window or injuring a single person. All it did was make the 300
nearby people feel insecure and allow the Government the
opportunity to assert the continued need for security and
'stability measures' here. The real winners are the village
guards. Without instability, they have no reason to exist."
13.(SBU) No contacts reported increases in the size of the
village guard forces in their respective communities. Nor did
they report any new recruitment of village guards. Some Syriac
contacts reported community fear that returning diaspora members
might be pressed into the village guard as a quid pro quo for
allowing village resettlement, but no one reported that this had
actually happened. One contact explained that most returnees
now are age fifty or older, independent-minded,
European-educated and wary of GOT authority, and that they
therefore may not be attractive candidates for the village
guard's cadre in GOT security force opinion.

GOT resigned, hopeful dam project will help
-------------------------------------------

14.(SBU) Several sub-governors viewed the region in a more
detached, almost resigned fashion. Reflecting on recent
violence, one Mardin sub-governor said "that is what happens
here in summer, but PKK needs to recognize that it has been
passed up by history and it is out of step with the world order
since September 11. It is outmoded and does not know its place.
If it keeps using violence, it will be destroyed and people
will reject it," he said. Another Sirnak sub-governor said that
"as long as there is a place (in Iraq) for PKK, they will keep
attacking us. We know that. We will have to deal with them to
prevent problems (in Iraq) from crossing into Turkey to disturb
our citizens. Fighting terrorism is a necessity. We must be
strong against it wherever it is. You cannot deal with it in
another way," he said.

15.(SBU) Several GOT officials said that they saw the need for
an expanded economy to "focus the population's energy away from
violence." Only one had detailed ideas of how that might
manifest itself - in eastern Mardin province. That sub-governor
spoke of the challenges of dry land agriculture, the recent
importing of pistachios trees to northeast Mardin from Gaziantep
province, a search for heartier grape varieties for possible use
in winemaking (Note: he had just transferred in to Mardin
province from a wine area in the Izmir region. End Note.), and
the expected boon to regional employment that will come in 2005
when the Iliusu dam project starts. He said that the Iliusu dam
would be the next extension of the Southern Anatolia Project
("GAP" in Turkish) and that it would employ 3,000 "skilled
workers and two to three times that many unskilled and day
laborers." "It will transform this region, bringing water,
electricity and work," he predicted. (Note: The proposed Iliusu
dam project is highly controversial since it would flood
historically unique Hasankeyf in Batman province, a site with
many layers of civilization on the Tigris river, and would
displace tens of thousands of people. End Note.)

Comment
-------
16.(SBU) Comment: DEHAP Kurds and Syriac Christians are some of
the GOT's staunchest critics. Contacts from these groups in
Mardin and Sirnak generally were downbeat about GOT efforts to
"deal with the Kurdish agenda" or embrace religious freedom.
They were skeptical of GOT sincerity at implementing recently
enacted reforms. Syriac Christian contacts, however, gave both
the Mardin and Sirnak governates "good marks" for doing what
they could to foster Syriac diaspora return to the two provinces
from western Europe. They cast most of their criticism at the
village guard system and its military administration apparatus.
While the assertions of neither DEHAP contacts nor GOT officials
about who is behind which recent attack can be accepted without
due diligence, the observation that forces other than the
PKK/KONGRA GEL might be behind some of the recent more limited
scale regional violence bears consideration. Still, it is not
credible that village guards would be behind many of the terror
attacks killing and injuring GOT security forces with land
mines, IED's, or larger-scale force deployments. End Comment.

17. BAGHDAD MINIMIZE CONSIDERED.


REID

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