Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Turkey: grade school girls can wear Islamic veils to school

The Recep Tayyip Erdogan administration removed the ban on Islamic veils for girls attending religious schools and for girls in all other schools during religion class, beginning in grade school, the Turkish Official State Bulletin made known Tuesday.

The Islamic veil is still banned in public and private schools during all other classes. The Erdogan administration had reinstated it for university students in a previous move. The Islamic veil was banned by secular Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The new law, which becomes effective in summer 2013, also abolishes compulsory uniforms and authorizes informal dress for grade through high school students. It forbids girls from wearing makeup, bleaching their hair, wearing shorts, miniskirts, and clothes that are clinging, transparent, or low-cut. Boys are forbidden to grow beards or mustaches, and clothes with political slogans or drawings are banned for both genders.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

One of World's Oldest Monasteries May Lose Land Used for 1,600 Years

The future of one of the world's oldest, functioning Christian monasteries may be in jeopardy.

The Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara, Turkey, has ruled that the state treasury can repossess nearly 60 percent of the land belonging to Mor Gabriel. The legal controversy comes as Syriac Christians, who worship in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, return to revitalize their homeland in eastern Turkey after fleeing violence decades ago between Turkey and Kurdish separatists.

The Assyrian monastery has been functioning since it was founded in 397. However, in 2008, the treasury filed a land registration suit against Mor Gabriel after Muslim chiefs in neighboring villages complained of the monastery's "anti-Turkish activities." That case originally was dismissed, but was resurrected on appeals over the monastery's tax records.

According to Turkish newspaper Zaman, the appeals court ruled in favor of the treasury, stating that although the land has been occupied by Mor Gabriel for more than 1,600 years, it is not the legal property of the monastery. Zaman also reported that the judges “had 'lost' property and fiscal documents 'proving that the land in question belongs to the monastery.'”

In response, Assyrian foundations made Mor Gabriel a topic in their summer meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül.

Mor Gabriel can now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to retain its property and existence. For now, the monastery’s legal status is in question.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Religious Minorities Find Sanctuary in Kurdistan

For decades, religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq suffered persecution and violence, forcing tens of thousands to flee. But in the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, many religious minorities - most with ancient roots - say their numbers are now increasing thanks to improving stability and legislation to protect minority rights. 

 Iraqi Christians were targeted by Sunni and Shi'ite militants after Saddam Hussein's ouster.
Down in the heat of Erbil city, Father Aesha Dawoud leads an Assyrian church in a suburb of the Kurdistan capital.
“Now our churches and our holy places are honored and respected by the people who live around us,” said Father Aesha. “In celebration and in peace, people come here. The people of this city guard our places of worship.”
There were tens of thousands of Christians living in cities like Baghdad and Basra in southern Iraq. The majority have fled - some overseas, many to Kurdistan.
Father Aesha said his congregation would support an independent Kurdish state.
“If the situation is like now, if they don’t change things for us, then yes we would support the Kurds,” he said.
Many Christians have settled in the town of Ainkawa outside Erbil.
Ragat Hana Yousef moved to Ainkawa from Baghdad after his liquor store there was bombed in 2005.
"Kurdistan is different from the rest of Iraq because now everyone is free to speak," he said. "There is more democracy and what’s most important, it is safe.”
Nearby, a Kurdish barber - who gave only his first name, Mohamed - said the people in Kurdistan should unite with the Kurds who now control a large part of Syria.
“It is better for one people to live in one house, not be divided in two,” he said.