An Assyrian priest and two other Assyrian Christians were arrested Friday in Turkey and slapped with terror charges for allegedly offering bread and water to Kurdish militants who visited his monastery, according to reports.
Priest Sefer Bileçen of the Mor Yakup Monastery in southeast Turkey was detained last Thursday, according to Mezopotamya news agency in addition to two other Assyrian Christians, Musa Tash Takin from Sidri and Youssef Yar from the Üçköy.
Bileçen’s arrest reportedly came in response to testimony provided by a member of the PKK-aligned People’s Defense Forces (HPG) who claimed that Bileçen gave bread and water to HPG members when they visited the church in 2018.
Bileçen is said to be the only caretaker of the monastery located in the town of Mardin.
“As men of God, priests have to comply when somebody asks for help, no matter what their religion, race, language or ideology,” Türker was quoted as saying.
“These arrests have left the 3,000 remaining Christians of the Syriac-Orthodox faith and Assyrian-Syriac ethnicity in a state of fear and confusion. This kind of behavior by the Turkish authorities is the reason why the vast majority of Christians of Tur Abdin have left the region, and live in scattered.”
According to A Demand for Action, the Mor Yakup Monastery was closed for two decades before Bileçen became a monk. The monastery is situated in an area that serves as a focal point in battles between the PKK and the Turkish government.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, told the U.S.-based advocacy group International Christian Concern that Assyrians have been targeted and massacred for their ethnicity and religion for centuries.
Additionally, Turkey has reportedly deported numerous foreign pastors and missionaries in recent years.
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom ranks Turkey as a “Tier 2” country of concern for religious freedom violations in its 2019 annual report, stating that “religious freedom in Turkey remained deeply troubling.”