February 25, 2013 – In recent years, around 60-100 Syriac Orthodox families have returned from central Europe to Turkey. Encouraged by changes in the political atmosphere, the minority nonetheless faces a host of problems, from the expropriation of land belonging to a monastery, to a ban on special schools and kindergartens, and also a lack of places of worship in Istanbul.
By Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere
A sign in Aramaic at the side of the road defiantly bids visitors “Welcome to Kafro” next to the official Turkish sign on which the village is called “Elbeğendi”. Here, some 15 kilometres south of Midyat, live 17 Syriac Orthodox families. There are no shops in the village, but there is a café that allegedly serves the only decent pizza in the area.
“German is the lingua franca amongst the children in the village,” says the pizza maker in flawless German, which he learned while living close to Stuttgart. All of the families here have returned to Kafro after living in Germany and Switzerland, some of them for decades.
Among them is also the muhtar, the elected village chief, Aziz Demir, who lived with his family in Zurich and near St. Gallen. “Even if our lives there as Christians were very pleasant, something was still missing,” he says on the terrace of his house, where he lives with his wife, from a neighbouring village, and their youngest son, Josef, who attends secondary school in Midyat. With a sweeping gesture beyond the newly landscaped garden out onto the plain, he says “This is simply our home.”
Urgent need of restoration
The Demirs and the other 16 families all live in new houses, because the buildings of the old village, within site of the new developments, were for the most part destroyed in the clashes between the army and the PKK. As was the old church, which is in urgent need of restoration but still awaits the necessary permits.