Syria refugees swell Christian community in Turkey By Diana Darke Eastern Turkey

Syria's Christians belong to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, but chased away by the threat of violence some are heading for neighbouring Turkey, where they have been greeted with considerable enthusiasm. Driven by a deep and humble faith, Father Joaqim is a young man with a sense of destiny. He has returned from 11 years in Holland to revive his dying community in eastern Turkey. We are standing together on the terrace of his newly restored monastery, high on a remote escarpment near Nusaybin, looking south over the Mesopotamian Plain. "Thank God our community is alive again," he says, his face radiating out from the distinctive black cap of his Syriac Orthodox habit. "On Sundays our church is full with worshippers from the village."

This terrace was a vegetable patch and a local family was living in the ruins. there was no path and it took an hour to climb up here. "Back in the 1980s."You have transformed this place." Continue reading the main story What is Syriac Christianity? Syriac Christianity dates back to the third century It was dynamic in the first millennium. when I first came here." I marvel. bringing Christianity to China and India . admiring the quality of the renovations.

He was a 4th Century pearl diver in the Red Sea.It also acted as a medium for the transmission of Greek thought to the Arab world The Syriac language is closely related to Arabic and Hebrew "Yes. the region known as Tur Abdin." Continue reading the main story From Our Own Correspondent . They looked after the monastery very well. As for the Syriac Christians." The thought of a Syriac Orthodox monk being grateful to Yezidis. A young helper appears with a tray of refreshments. this was always their homeland." he replies serenely. custodians of some of the earliest surviving churches in the world. They moved in after the last monk died. "Once there were 80 thriving monasteries here. Syriac for "Mountain of the Servants of God".St Eugene. sometimes reviled as devilworshippers by Muslims and Christians alike. "This was the first. where the Turkish government has invested heavily over the past decade. But surprises like these come thick and fast in eastern Turkey. was a novel one. including Kurdish ones. extending agriculture and employment to help settle local communities." he tells me. "They were Yezidis. founded by Mor Augen . building hydro-electric dams on the Tigris and Euphrates. who taught us the Egyptian monastic tradition. Father Joaqim guides me out of the blazing summer sun into a shady spot to sit.

leaving just a handful of monks struggling to keep the main monasteries alive. getting permission from the government. Mongols and Turks decimated their numbers. and they paid to bring the electricity. so maybe we can resolve our differences. "It was very easy. Rich members of our community are returning from Europe and investing their life savings.without any trace of rancour . "are the land disputes with our Kurdish neighbours"." He explains how EU pressure has gradually forced a change in Turkish policy." he continues." He pauses. gently sipping his tea. We were invited back officially. but our local MP is now a Christian from our community. "They paid for the new tarmac road to reach the foot of the mountain. and they agreed." "That can't have been easy.He describes ." I say.how successive persecutions from Christians. "The politicians now realise it is good to have us here. He represents the Kurdish Party. We are only a minority. We paid for the road to continue up here and for the restoration works. "When I returned two years ago. "I asked the government for permission to re-open the monastery." he elaborates. "What is more difficult." . of course. "In some places they use our churches as stables.

. Across the Tur Abdin. some of the long-abandoned villages are slowly coming back to life. not just with emigre families from the Syriac disapora returning from Europe. returning to the bosom of their community in Turkey. They have always shared our ancient Syriac language and culture." he replies. "We want our brothers to come back from Syria. but also with coreligionists from Syria. Several of their families are living in our village.and our football team." he smiles.I gesture down to the plain below and ask about the war in Syria just across the border. They help our church . within sight of the monastery: "Are you afraid it will spill over here?" "Not at all. Most of them fled there during the First World War. separated by an artificial border.

. the war in Syria would be reuniting an ancient community? Only Father Joaqim. making Syriac wines for sale in the restaurants of the new boutique hotels in the historic towns of Mardin and Midyat." "It is for Syriac Christians." Father Joaqim explains. Thank God for them. he hopes many Syriac Christians from Syria will come with their families and settle here. A slick Syriac-staffed factory even harvests the produce of Syriac vineyards. "The land was donated by a Syriac businessman. "It looked brand-new but half empty. "What about that smart refugee camp outside Midyat?" I ask him. there are now around 150. perhaps." Who could have imagined that in a remote corner of eastern Turkey.A boutique hotel in Midyat From a low point of just 80 families. Like us.

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