The past several years San Gabriel has been involved in a land dispute with the Turkish government and Kurdish village leaders. The Turkish supreme court granted substantial parts of the Monastery to the Turkish Treasury.
Long-buried tensions between an ancient Assyrian Christian monastery and its neighbouring Muslim villagers are coming to a head in South Eastern Turkey.
The final decision of the [Turkish] Supreme Court of Cassation in the legal case of St. Gabriel, ordering it to transfer the lands which the monastery has owned for 14 centuries to the State Treasury marks a major legal scandal. Cynically, it was the same institution which in 1974 ruled against the [non-Muslim] minority foundations in Turkey and has played an important role in intensifying minority problems. The latest ruling, in which the State is designated as the ‘land owner’ and the ‘other’ (being St.Gabriel) as the ‘occupier’ proves that not much has changed in Turkey’s policy towards minorities. The court decision sheds light on an important parameter of the process that has been labeled as “democratization.”
The confiscation of properties, trusts and estates of non-Muslim minorities by the government or by third parties is one of the darkest pages in the history of the [Turkish] Republic. Even though the Law of Foundations has been subject to various revisions within the framework of EU reforms over the last ten years, due to the nationalistic understanding that aims to preserve the existing status quo, the problems of minority foundations have not received a profound and lasting solution. This is very much related to the hegemonic perception that has been formed historically towards minorities in Turkey. Minorities, as a group in Turkey, have been regarded not only as infidel [Turkish gavur] for many years, but also as groups that foster secret ambitions, who “have stolen the wealth that belonged to us,” or as “hostile” and “unreliable” element within the Turkish nation formation. The deep traces of such institutionalized discourses can be read in the reflexes of the judicial and political authorities in the context of the legal trials of Hrant Dink, St. Gabriel and Publishing House.