Christian Human Rights Activist Jailed in Turkey by Robert Jones

  • Assyrian human rights activist Sawo Oshana Ide, accused of “being a member of an armed organization,” has been jailed in Turkey since February 18. The indictment does not mention which “armed organization.”The second trial will be held June 16. The international community must not abandon him.

The Assyrian human rights activist Sawo Oshana Ide, accused of “being a member of an armed organization,” has been jailed in Turkey since February 18. The indictment does not mention which “armed organization” Sawo belongs to. According to Ide’s lawyer, Erkan Metin, “He is abstractly accused of doing research in accordance with the objectives of an organization and forming lists about ammunition.”

According to the Turkish penal code, it is a charge that can bring imprisonment for five to ten years.

According to Assyria TV, “the Turkish security forces stormed the apartment of Sawo Oshana Ide in Midyat, Turkey. The police took his computer and other notes. Thereafter, Sawo and his wife were taken into interrogation. Today in the afternoon, the police released Sawo’s wife but he was arrested on charges of collaborating with a terrorist organization.”

The accusations are based on some photos and notes in his computer, Metin said.

“Some of the photos were taken at the election campaigns of the Assyrian MP, Erol Dora, and the photos of the members of the Kurdish YPG members as well as the photos of the commemoration of the death of Sakine Cansiz, a Kurdish politician murdered in Paris.

“His notes include his report on the immigrant smuggling, his writings about the Yazidis and Assyrians in Iraq, his research on Syria, his writings about his visit with the Chaldean metropolitan bishop to the Kocanis Church in the city of Hakkari, an outline drawing of a ruined church in Hakkari, as well as his notes about the weapons stockpile of the Assyrian forces he received during his visit in Iraq.”

“Sawo was born and grew up in the village of Gorumlu, in the predominantly Kurdish city of Sirnak,” said his lawyer. “After members of his family, Hamdin and Hikmet Simsek, were murdered, and after the pressures of the state intensified in the region, his family fled. Sawo lived in France for about 30 years.

“The extrajudicial murder is now known to have been committed by the Turkish colonel, Cemal Temizoz. The slain Kurdish lawyer, Tahir Elci, was the lawyer of that trial.”

“Sawo loves his people,” added Metin, “and researched their problems…His detention might aim to intimidate Assyrian rights advocates in Turkey.”

He said that since the clashes in the southeastern region intensified after June 7, 2015, the pressures of the state’s forces on Assyrians have been on the rise.

“There are about 25,000 Assyrians in Turkey. The fears and concerns of Assyrians have skyrocketed in the face of the jihadist terror attacks against Assyrians in the Middle East, the rise of the anti-secular policies across the country and the policies of the AKP government that have paved the way for that.”

The future seems grim for Assyrians in Turkey. But their past was never that bright either. Assyrians in Turkey, like other minorities, have never been allowed to live as equal, free citizens of the Turkish republic. They have systematically been discriminated against due to their language, ethnicity and religion. The 1915 genocide marked the peak of the Assyrian persecution in the region.

“In the 1915 genocide,” according to Tuma Celik, a historian and chief editor of the newspaper Sabro (The Hope), “two thirds of Assyrians were exterminated. We think that the decision of genocide included [all] Christians…. If the aim had been to massacre the Armenians only, they [the assailants] would not have attacked the places where Assyrians lived. For instance, there was not a single Armenian in the town of Midyat. But Assyrians there were also slaughtered in an organized manner.”

Even after 101 years after the genocide, discrimination and pressures against Assyrians, an ancient people of the region, continues unremittingly.

On April 1, for instance, Erol Dora, an Assyrian MP of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), tried to deliver a speech at the Turkish parliament to mark the Assyrian Akitu day.

But the word “Akitu’ used by Dora was censored in the registry of the parliament and recorded as “X” — another demonstration of the Turkish regime’s ongoing policy, ever since the establishment of the Turkish state in 1923, of the denial of non-Turkish languages and cultures in Turkey, and even the use of non-Turkish names. [1]

Assyrian human rights activist Sawo Oshana Ide (left) has been jailed in Turkey since February, accused of “being a member of an armed organization.” Erol Dora (right), an Assyrian MP of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was censored when he tried to deliver a speech at the Turkish parliament to mark the Assyrian Akitu day.

Kurdish leaders have been trying so hard to change the situation for the better — but only to end up in jail.

Abdullah Demirbas, the former mayor of the Sur district of the city of Diyarbakir, introduced what he defined as “multi-linguistic municipality” to Turkey, a state that does not very much tolerate the use of non-Turkish languages.

He encouraged the use of Kurdish, Armenian, Zazaki, Arabic and Assyrian languages in the municipal works. He added Kurdish, Armenian and Assyrian languages first to the signboards at the entrance of the town, and then at the entrance of the municipality. Due to these activities, he was not only arrested and brought to court, but was also removed from his mayoral post in 2007 by the Turkish state council.

Given the systematic mistreatment of Assyrians at the hands of Turkey, the detention of Sawo Oshana Ide appears an extension of the anti-minority policies of the Turkish government.

If you are a minority in Turkey, then you are most probably the target of the Turkish regime. You are easy to oppress and exterminate. This has been the case for at least the last hundred years under the Turkish republic.

The second trial of Sawo Oshana Ide will be held on June 16. “He has been put in three prisons in 1.5 month until his first trial took place,” said his lawyer. “And he was not even brought to his first trial even though we had demanded it. He attended the trial through videoconferencing. We really do not know what will happen to Sawo from now on. ”

The international community must not abandon him.

Robert Jones, an expert on Turkey, is currently based in the UK.

[1] “Soon after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey,” reported Human Rights Watch (HRW), “its government embarked upon a radical program of nation-building. Ethnic diversity was perceived as a danger to the integrity of the state…. Those who refused often met with severe repression.”

In 2011, for instance, Favlus Ay, an Assyrian citizen of Turkey, applied to a local court in Midyat, which used to be an important center for Assyrians before the 1915 genocide, to change his name to “Paulus Bartuma”, which is an Assyrian name. His application was rejected by Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which cited the importance of the “national” and “constitutional unity” of Turkish citizens through their last names.

“In various areas of public life,” writes the scholar Derya Bayir, “the use of languages other than Turkish is still effectively prohibited in Turkey. “The restrictions on party political literature, political campaigns and speeches, local government activities including sponsorship of events and provision of services, and controls on languages used by associations have not become flexible.” (Source: Bayir, D. Minorities and Nationalism in Turkish Law: Routledge, 2013.)

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