Skip to main content

Eyeing political gains, Kurds and Syriacs aim to mend old wounds

At the grass-roots level, the alliance between Kurds and the Syriac community has led to bitter divisions.
Priest Gabriel Aktas poses in Kirklar, a Syriac church in Mardin, south-eastern Turkey, on November 17, 2014. The Christian Assyrian community in Turkey, which now numbers no more than a several thousand, has been hit by wave after wave of immigration even since the foundation the modern Turkish state in 1923 out of the ruins of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. But hope has not been lost that a future presence can be continued and memory of the past retained, with som

Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan sent a “Letter to the Syriac People” from his prison cell last week, calling on Syriacs and Kurds to join forces in building a joint nation in Mesopotamia. “It is the foremost duty and responsibility of the Kurdish people to help overcome the tragic history of this ancient Mesopotamian people and to enable its resurrection,” Ocalan wrote of the Christian minority that has been largely driven out of its homeland in southeastern Anatolia over the last century. The PKK leader was underscoring a minority policy adopted by the Kurdish nationalist movement in recent years, in which it has sought to embrace the Syriacs and present itself as a multiethnic democratic force.

At the political level, this policy has worked to some extent, with several Syriacs elected to public office on the ticket of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Turkey’s largest Kurdish party, which has links with the PKK. But at the grass-roots level, it is a different story. The alliance has led to bitter divisions within the Syriac community, where distrust of the Kurds runs deep. The Kurdish movement, on the other hand, has not been able to translate its outreach policy into neighborly relations on the ground, with violent attacks on Christians, land grabs and intimidation still very much the order of the day in the Tur Abdin region, the historic homeland of the Syriacs.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.