Turkey sentences Assyrian priest to jail over terror charges

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced an Assyrian priest to two years and one month in prison on charges of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Bianet news site reported.

Sefer Bileçen, the priest of the Mor Yakup Monastery in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin province, was detained in January of last year along with 12 others on charges of aiding the PKK, an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for almost four decades.

The sole caretaker of the 1,500-year-old church was detained after a testimony by a member of the People's Defence Forces (HPG), PKK’s military wing, who said Bileçen provided HPG members with bread and water when they went to the monastery.

The PKK insurgency has killed 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, since 1984. 

During the 1990s, the height of Turkey’s conflict with the PKK, thousands of villages in the country’s southeast were evacuated, much of the remaining Assyrians were forced to abandon their villages.

When developments in recent years allowed the community’s to return, Bileçen arrived at the church and undertook its restoration after spending decades in ruins. The monastery was opened again in 2013.