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TURKEY ARRESTS PRIEST WHO GAVE WATER AND FOOD TO KURDISH FIGHTERS

An Assyrian priest and two other Assyrian Christians were arrested in Turkey and slapped with terror charges for allegedly offering bread and water to Kurdish militants who visited a monastery, according to reports.  Priest Sefer Bileçen of the Mor Yakup Monastery in southeast Turkey was detained in addition to two other Assyrian Christians.  According to the outlet, Turkish police accused the pastor of aiding and abetting the Kurdish militant outfit aligned with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a group recognized by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization.  Bileçen’s arrest reportedly came in response to testimony provided by a member of the People’s Defence Forces (HPG).

Bileçen is said to be the only caretaker of the monastery located in the town of Mardin.  Mezopotamya news said the arrest of Bileçen was unnecessary and called for his release.  “As men of God, priests have to comply when somebody asks for help, no matter what their religion, race, language or ideology,” they said.  The case has been compared to that of American missionary Andrew Brunson. Brunson, who served for two decades as a missionary in Turkey, spent over two years in prison in Izmir after he was accused of supporting Kurdish fighters and the Gülen movement, charges that Brunson claimed were false.

Reports of Bileçen’s arrest drew the ire of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a congressionally mandated panel of independent experts who advise the White House, Congress and the State Department on Religious Freedom issues.  “USCIRF is concerned by initial reports that authorities have detained Father Bileçen, and two other members of the small Syriac Orthodox community for unclear reasons,” a tweet from the commission reads.  The Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights reports that the priest and the two Christians were taken to a police station and then sent to Mardin.

“We at the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights express our full solidarity with the three Christian detainees,” a statement from the group reads.  “We hold the Turkish authorities responsible for their physical safety, and we demand that they release them immediately.”  The Syrian and Iraqi Christian humanitarian group A Demand for Action said “These arrests have left the 3,000 remaining Christians of the Syriac-Orthodox faith and Assyrian-Syriac ethnicity in a state of fear and confusion.  This kind of behaviour by the Turkish authorities is the reason why the vast majority of Christians of Tur Abdin have left the region.”

Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, told U.S. based International Christian Concern that Assyrians have been massacred for their ethnicity and religion for centuries.  “They have been left all alone by the world powers,” she said.  “Now they need the voice of Christians and human rights advocates more than ever.”  Since a failed coup in 2016 that was blamed on the Gulen movement, the Turkish regime of President Erdogan has engaged in a crackdown on any person who is suspected of having ties to the coup attempt or Kurdish rebel groups.  Tens of thousands have been arrested as a result.  Additionally, Turkey has reportedly deported numerous foreign pastors and missionaries in recent years.

Source: Christian Post