Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Big-city Turkey elects 25-year-old Christian woman as mayor

A 25-year-old student has burst onto the political scene in Turkey as the first Christian woman to govern a metropolitan city in this predominantly Muslim republic.

Put forward as a candidate by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Turkey’s main Kurdish party, in municipal elections on March 30, Februniye Akyol was elected co-mayor of the southeastern city of Mardin together with Ahmet Turk, 71, a widely respected veteran Kurdish leader. The BDP splits all top posts between a man and a woman to boost female participation in politics.
“The Kurdish party has enabled me to fight for my people and its rights, and this is what I am going to do,” Akyol told Al-Monitor in an interview in Mardin this week. “I’m not here as an ornament.”
Akyol, the daughter of a silversmith, is a member of the Syriac community, an ancient branch of the Christian faith whose followers still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. The region of Tur Abdin near Mardin, a plateau dotted with monasteries that go back to the fourth century, is the Syriacs’ historical heartland.
Turkey has had Christian mayors of smaller towns before, and in 2011 the Syriac politician Erol Dora, also running on a BDP ticket, became the first Christian member of parliament in Ankara since the 1960s. But Akyol is the first Christian to govern one of Turkey’s 30 metropolitan municipalities.
The Syriac community, which numbered around 200,000 people in Tur Abdin a century ago, was decimated by the massacres of Anatolian Christians during World War I, when Syriacs shared the fate of the Armenians. In the decades that followed, many survivors and their descendants fled poverty, persecution and the war between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels in the region to settle in Europe. Today, a total of 150,000 Syriacs live in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Some 15,000 are in Istanbul, but less than 5,000 remain in Tur Abdin.
Although Turkey began issuing appeals for Syriacs to return to their homeland in the early 2000s and strengthened social and religious rights under the country’s EU membership application, Akyol said her community did not yet enjoy full democratic privileges. “Syriacs here are still not free, they can’t live in peace,” Akyol said.
The newly elected mayor’s own name is a case in point. Born and christened Fabronia Benno, she had to run for office under her official Turkish name, Februniye Akyol, because of long-standing restrictions on the cultures and languages of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey. Since the Syriacs are not officially recognized as a religious minority by the Turkish state, they are not allowed their own schools to teach their ancient language to their children. Many Syriac villages were destroyed in the war between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a rebel group fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/christian-mayor-turkey-rights-bdp-mardin.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzEmail&utm_content=23327&utm_campaign=0##ixzz2yvrXpL7e