In the second part of a report from south-east Turkey, a team member of SAT-7 TÜRK wanders the ancient border town of Mardin. In this haven from surrounding conflict, she meets a Syrian refugee family who offer hospitality, a Chaldean Christian waiting in hope for his fiancée back in Syria, and an Aramaic-speaking priest who explains the city’s secret of peace.
When we returned to Mardin, I went wandering around this old town, ambling past the stores of coppersmiths, marble artists, spice sellers, makers of saddle bags. I peered into a pretty, historical courtyard and saw beautiful young faces and an elderly grandma watching as her grandchildren played. I asked her if I could take their picture, little realising what effect my question would have. After I had taken her and her grandchildren’s photos, she invited me into her home.
Belief or “religion” is everything in this part of the world. It could lead you to be isolated or alienated – or even killed.”
This was a Syrian family who had fled from the war and moved to Turkey a very short time ago. With their strong accents and my horrible Arabic, we worked hard to understand each other while we sipped our Syrian coffees. One of the first questions they asked me was about my beliefs. Belief or “religion” is everything in this part of the world. It could lead you to be isolated or alienated – or even killed.
When I said “Ene Mesihi” (“I am Christian”) their eyes lit up and I felt it gave this family great comfort. Christians are seen as peace seekers and, like refugees, are also vulnerable. I sensed that even the name “Mesihi” gave this Muslim family some security. How great a God we have, how much more we should serve Him! We left each other with big hugs, many smiles and many blessings.
After meeting this refugee family, I also met two young Chaldean Christian men from Syria. One used to be an industrial engineer and the other was a policeman. They both left their homeland with a mixture of fear, hope and deep reluctance. “Who wants to leave their country?” one of them asked me. This was another touching moment. The engineer is engaged to be married but his fiancée was unable to cross the border with him and the border is now closed. So they were separated, hopefully for only a short time.
Facing the unknown
I imagined these two men, building their careers, getting their first homes, hanging out in cafes with their friends – then one day losing everything. I could see both curiosity and tiredness in their eyes: curiosity about the future but the tiredness of missing home and facing the unknown. All these people need one thing to survive: hope.
On my last day in Mardin, the SAT-7 TÜRK team I was with were invited to Deyrulzafaran Monastery by Archbishop Mor Filüksinos Saliba Özmen. We arrived as the archbishop was leading a service in the ancient language of Aramaic. It was very special to hear them worshipping in the language of Christ.
After the service we had a long chat with the archbishop, who seemed very pleased to learn more about us. He is an important figure in the movement to protect Assyrian culture and heritage. One of his main concerns was about the migration of Assyrians from Mardin to other regions of Turkey and abroad.
When I asked again my question about the reason for the peaceful environment in Mardin and what the world can learn from it, his answer was simple: “Love,” he said. He considered further and added these words, which I hope I will never forget: “We are Christians from this land and territory and we are almost disappearing, through migration, because of threats and persecution. But Christ’s path is thorny and it won’t be easy. I ask everyone’s prayers for us, for this nation and this territory.”
Youth awakening in Turkey: Read part one of this report from Mardin.
SAT-7 TÜRK is the only Christian channel on the state-regulated Türksat satellite system, and is available to 55 million people. It operates from studios in Istanbul and offers a full range of programmes for all ages, strengthening Christians and building bridges of understanding with the wider population. In July 2016 the channel was also added to the Turkish D-Smart subscription TV network.