Assyrian priest arrested in Turkey during military operation

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An Assyrian priest from the Mor Yakup Church, also known as Church of Saint Jacob in Nisibis, in the southeastern Turkish province of Mardin, was arrested on Friday one day after his detention during a military operation in the Nusaybin district, Turkish media reports said.

The reason for the arrest of the priest, Sefer (Aho) Bileçen, is not yet known due to the confidentiality of the investigation as decided by the prosecutor’s office.

Two Assyrian villagers were also detained as part of the same investigation.

Yuhanna Aktaş, the head of the Assyrian community in Mardin, complained about the lack of information about the priest’s arrest.

“The Mor Yakup Church is on Mount Bagok, and there is not even a house around it. Aho Bileçen is very young. He left İstanbul and moved here. There is no one around him other than a few students. We cannot understand why a priest would ever be arrested,” said Aktaş.

The Mor Yakup Church is 1,500 years old.

Assyrians along with Armenians were subjected to massacres and forced displacement during World War I. The incidents are recognized by many – though not by Turkey – as genocide. This, and ongoing discrimination decades later drove many thousands to seek safety abroad.

As a result, there are only around 25,000 Assyrians left in Turkey.

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