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Cablegate: Finding Room for the Syriac Orthodox in Istanbul

VZCZCXRO7474
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHIT #0062 0500811
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 190811Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9517
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU PRIORITY
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS ISTANBUL 000062

SIPDIS

IRAQ TO PRT NINEWA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OSCE PGOV PHUM PREL TU IZ
SUBJECT: FINDING ROOM FOR THE SYRIAC ORTHODOX IN ISTANBUL

1. (SBU) Summary. The Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan for
Istanbul and Ankara Yusuf Cetin February 7 discussed the need
for more Syriac Orthodox churches and clergy in Istanbul
following the boom in the community's population in the
1990s. Cetin also noted that while some families are
returning to their homes in the southeast following the
community's exodus due to the anti-PKK raids in the 1990s,
the numbers are not as great as the local municipalities
suggest. Despite the challenges of the Syriac Orthodox in
Turkey, the community in Iraq is facing much more significant
problems, he said. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On February 7, the Consul General met with the
Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan for Istanbul and Ankara
Archbishop Yusuf Cetin. According to Cetin - Metropolitan
since 1986 - the current Syriac Orthodox community in
Istanbul grew to nearly 20,000 after the forced relocation of
many villages in the Southeast during anti-PKK raids in the
1990s. The Syriacs have only one church in Istanbul which,
Cetin says, is not sufficient to meet the needs of the
community. Currently, according to Cetin, they also borrow
seven churches from other Orthodox denominations (nine during
the summer, including two on the Princes' Islands) to provide
services to their community. While the community board
requested permission to build another church in Yesilkoy,
they have yet to receive notice from the municipality that
there is zoning for a church in the district. The president
of the community's layman council said that they face
difficulties in identifying a site for a church because the
Syriacs are not a "recognized religious minority" and do not
have "foundation" status. In addition to the need for
additional churches in Istanbul, the Archbishop said there
were insufficient clerics to provide services to the
community in Istanbul. There are currently 28 Syriac Orthodox
clergy and monks in Turkey, with seven in Istanbul.

3. (SBU) Following the relocation of many Syriac families
from the Southeast in the early 1990s, some older families
have returned to their homes. Cetin said that the locals in
the region exaggerated the number of families that have
actually returned, when in reality the number had been
insignificant. Note: It is difficult for Post to get an
accurate count of the number of families displaced or
returned, and numbers vary widely depending on to whom we are
speaking. End note.

4. (SUB) The Archbishop commented positively on the
community's relationship with the central government and
local municipality mayors. Community leadership meets
regularly with GOT representatives from the MFA and State
Minister Egemen Bagis. Cetin also emphasized the good
relations with other minority religions and the Directorate
for Religious Affairs.

5. (SBU) The Syriacs in Turkey are faring well compared to
their Iraqi brethren Cetin confided. He reported that many
are trying to flee Iraq now given the continuing rise in
violence and poor treatment of the Syriacs and other
Christian denominations in Iraq.

6. (SBU) Comment. While the conversation touched upon Mor
Gabriel and Dareszarfulan Monasteries in Mardin and Midyat
respectively, the Metropolitan did not mention the court
cases involving Mor Gabriel. The Syriac Diaspora and several
international human rights organizations highlight the
cadastre court cases involving Mor Gabriel in Midyat (TDB
July 29, 2009) as examples of encroachment on minority
religious rights in Turkey. Cetin's choice not to mention the
cases is consistent with his silence on the issue when
meeting with President Obama in April 2009, and may indicate
differing priorities among the metropolitans of the Syriac
Orthodox Church in Turkey, who do not speak with one voice.
End Comment.
WIENER

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