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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."

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

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

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

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

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