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Mother of Catholic priest found dead in Turkey, father still missing after abduction

Mother of Catholic priest found dead in Turkey, father still missing after abduction

A man waves Turkey's national flag during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally, organized by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, November 12, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas)

The decaying remains of an elderly woman and mother of a Catholic Chaldean priest in Turkey were found last week, two months after she was abducted alongside her husband who is still missing. 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a Christian persecution watchdog based in the United Kingdom, reports that the body of 65-year-old Simoni Diril was found on March 20 near the mountainous village of Mehre in Turkey’s southeastern Sırnak province. 

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

Diril was abducted along with her husband, Hurmuz, on Jan. 11. Hurmuz Diril, 71, is still missing. The Dirils are the parents of Remzi Diril, a priest at the Catholic Chaldean Church in Istanbul who is known for providing care to thousands of refugees. 

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Simoni Diril and extend our sincere condolences to Father Diril and the rest of Mrs. Diril’s family and loved ones,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. “We are also gravely concerned for the well-being of Mr. Hurmuz Diril, whose whereabouts and condition remain unknown.”

CSW is calling for a “full and intensive investigation” into the case. 

Thomas urged Turkish authorities to expedite efforts to secure Hurmuz Diril’s release as well as “take extra measures to protect the Christian minority, and to tackle hate speech, anti-Christian sentiments and all forms of religious discrimination in Turkey.”

According to International Christian Concern, another U.S.-based persecution watchdog organization, 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. 

International Christian Concern reports that a search conducted in the early days of the couple’s disappearance was hindered by winter weather but the investigation is ongoing. 

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 notes that the village was evacuated in 1989 and 1992 because of conflict between the PKK and the Turkish Army. The Diril’s returned to the village about a decade ago, ICC reports. 

In interviews with Bianet, an independent Turkish press agency, the victim’s nephew, George Diril, and Parliament Member Tuma Çelik said Diril’s body no longer had bodily integrity when it was found. 

"The streamside where her dead body was found is 10 minutes from the houses in the village,” George Diril was quoted as saying. “If the search had been sincerely conducted, maybe, it would not end like this.”

"A real search was not carried out, weather conditions were used as an excuse. Drones hovered in the air twice, that was all,” he added. "We constantly asked state authorities for help. But they were not sincere. A confidentiality order was imposed on the file.

"On the day when this order was issued, authorities came to the village. It was an utter production. They circled the house, took pictures and left. Then, news were reported that 'search was carried out despite harsh weather conditions.' But no search was done, our voice was not heard. No one cared."

Çelik, a member of the pro-minority Peoples' Democratic Party, told the news agency that the body was discovered in a spot that had been checked during the search. 

"The dead body has swollen a lot, a long time must have passed,” Çelik said. “But where she was found is very close to the village. It is a place frequently passed by people. The autopsy report will reveal whether the body was left there afterwards and when she was killed. The family is now concerned about the father's fate. Works should be intensified to find him as soon as possible."

The Iraqi Christian Relief Council, an Assyrian-run nonprofit, reports that Diril’s body was buried on Wednesday in Istanbul.

Turkey, a predominantly-Muslim country and NATO member, is ranked as the 36th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.

In January, an Assyrian priest and two other Assyrian Christians were arrested and charged with terrorism reportedly for offering bread and water to Kurdish militants who visited their monastery. 

According to CSW, Father Sefer Bileçen was scheduled to have a hearing on March 19. However, that hearing was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“CSW continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Father Aho, who faces unfounded accusations,” Thomas said in a statement. “We urge the international community to raise this case and others in which Christians have been arbitrarily targeted with Turkey at every opportunity.”

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