Turkish church attacked, desecrated in village where priest’s parents were kidnapped

A street wendor sells Turkish flags in front of Fatih Mosque before funeral of police officers killed in Saturday's blasts in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2016.
A street wendor sells Turkish flags in front of Fatih Mosque before funeral of police officers killed in Saturday's blasts in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2016. | Reuters/Murad Sezer

A Turkish church in the same village where the parents of a Catholic Chaldean priest were abducted last year has been attacked and desecrated, according to a report.

Unidentified people destroyed crosses, pictures of Jesus and rosaries at Marta Shimoni Church, a cave church in the mountainous village of Mehre in Turkey’s southeastern Sırnak province, last Tuesday, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern reported.

Video footage ICC obtained shows that the destruction was primarily against the Christian items and relics inside the church, ICC said.

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The group explained that the church is “built into the mountains, and thus cannot be destroyed in the same way as other churches.”

Simoni (L) and Hurmuz (R) Diril
Simoni (L) and Hurmuz (R) Diril | Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Last January, suspected Kurdish militants kidnapped elderly Turkish Christians Hurmüz Diril and his wife, Şimuni Diril, from the same village. On March 20, Şimuni’s son found her dead and dismembered in a river. Hurmüz’s fate remains unknown, and the government has not found the killers.

The pair’s son, Fr. Adday Ramzi Diril, serves as a Catholic priest, ministering to thousands of Iraqi refugees who live in Turkey.

A close relative of the Diril couple told ICC, “It is obvious that the people who did this are very uncomfortable with our presence on our lands and with our beliefs. This assault of our presence in the village is an indication that somebody is disturbed, and they do not want us here.”

The relative said the family suspects that the attack “was linked to the murder and disappearance of my parents.”

The lawyer for the Diril family, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, also spoke to ICC about the attack on the church, saying the unsolved case of the Dirils might have emboldened the attackers.

“My main concern, for the time being, is to get the prosecutor to open a case against the perpetrators in the abduction of the Diril couple, which ended with the murder of Mrs. Diril,” the attorney was quoted as saying.

“I have delivered more than a dozen petitions to the prosecutor so far, to urge him to look at the matter from different angles, as well as calling him to deliver his indictment as soon as possible,” he continued.

“Unfortunately, I could not have any positive result yet. I believe there is a strong correlation between the lack of indictment in this case and the recent attack against the chapel in the village in which the Diril couple went missing. The prosecutor’s refusal to introduce an indictment against the perpetrators emboldens the perpetrators and the people behind them,” he added.

The lawyer believes there could be “links between this attack and the kidnapping of the Diril couple.” He warned that if the impunity in the case of the abduction and killing of the Diril couple continues, “more attacks would follow.”

The Sırnak province borders both Iraq and Syria and Mehre is a historically Assyrian Christian village that has often been victimized by ongoing conflicts.

ICC had earlier said that the couple’s abduction was carried out by PKK members, also known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Turkey considers the PKK to be a terrorist group.

The village was evacuated in 1989 and 1992 because of conflict between the PKK and the Turkish Army.

Turkey has a long history of Christian persecution, and its government still refuses to admit that the Ottoman Turks committed genocide of Christian Armenians in 1915.

Turkey is 99% Muslim, according to its own statistics. Although its constitution provides for freedom of religion, the government uses regulations that demand the registration of religious groups to make it more difficult to practice non-Islamic faiths. Hatred toward Christians and Jews in the country often leads to discrimination, stigmatization and attacks.

Last July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned the Hagia Sophia, an ancient Christian cathedral, from a museum into a mosque, undoing its transformation in 1934 from a mosque to a cathedral.

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