TURKEY: KIDNAPPERS DEMAND 300,000 EUROS FOR PRIEST
Neighbors fond of hard-working priest who doubles as village repairman.
Father Edip Daniel Savci
ISTANBUL, November 29 (Compass Direct News) – Kidnappers of a Syrian Orthodox priest abducted yesterday in Southeast Turkey have demanded an enormous ransom for his release, church sources said.
Father Edip Daniel Savci, 42, went missing yesterday afternoon while driving north from the city of Midyat to his home at Mor Yakup Monastery in the village of Baristepe. At the monastery he was serving as a foster parent to 12 children and was doubling as village electrician.
“Unknown persons cut him off with a car and abducted him between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.,” Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Timotheos Samuel Aktas said in a press release today.
Speaking from Fr. Savci’s monastery this morning, Isa Gulten, principal at a Syrian Orthodox school south of Midyat, said that villagers had found Fr. Savci’s empty car soon after the incident.
Following the abduction, the kidnappers called another Syrian Orthodox priest from Fr. Savci’s mobile telephone and demanded a 300,000-euro (US$443,720) ransom.
“We want 300,000 euros or we won’t release him,” read a text message they sent to the priest, who requested anonymity, according to a source who spoke with him.
Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay said this morning that there were no new developments in the effort to rescue Fr. Savci.
“Our security units and governors in the region are continuing to work on the incident with all possibilities at their disposal,” Atalay said, according to an article on Haberler.com website. Semi-official Anadolu Ajansi news agency reported that the governor of Mardin had established a crisis center to track new developments.
In his press statement, Metropolitan Aktas thanked the Turkish state for its quick response in working to recover Fr. Savci.
“It strengthens our hope that our priest will be released in good health,” the statement said.
The versatile clergyman has lived and worked at Mor Yakup Monastery since he was 15 and is well loved by Baristepe’s several hundred residents, mostly Kurdish Muslims, a close friend told Compass.
Fr. Savci at work (photo: Gabi Afram)“He was the first person in the village to get electricity and the first to get a telephone,” said the friend, who requested anonymity. “Everyone would come to him to use the phone, and he never refused to help anyone.”
Villagers often sought out the priest when they needed their car fixed or electrical work done on their homes, the friend said.
“He worked day and night,” said Fr. Savci’s friend. “If you saw his hands and his fingers, it was obvious how hard he worked.”
Fr. Savci is also responsible for 12 children between the ages of 6 and 17 – some orphaned, others from poor families – who lived at the monastery.
“The last time I met him, he was busy building new rooms for the children,” Swedish Assyrian journalist Nuri Kino wrote yesterday.
His father dead, Fr. Savci’s mother and siblings have all immigrated to Germany, his friend said. Fr. Savci was the only priest, along with four nuns, still living in the village at the time of his abduction.
“No one can understand it, there wasn’t a person who didn’t love him,” commented his friend. “Whoever did this hurt the whole village and the whole country.”
The motive behind the priest’s kidnapping remains uncertain.
“From the outside it appears that it is just a matter of wanting a ransom,” a source at the Syrian Orthodox Mor Gabriel Monastery south of Midyat told Compass. “Trusted sources have not yet been able to tell us if there was a political or religious motive.”
Violent attacks against Christians in Turkey have been on the rise in recent years.
In February 2006, a young Turkish teenager shot and killed a Catholic priest in the northern port city of Trabzon. Last week saw the opening hearing of the trial of five young men who tortured and murdered three Protestants at a Christian publishing house in Malatya in April.
But kidnapping clergymen for ransom is unusual in Turkey. The last known case occurred in 1994, when suspected Islamic Hezbollah gunmen abducted Syrian Orthodox priest Melki Tok near Midyat and held him hostage for four days.
Fr. Savci’s abduction is reminiscent of Iraq, where Islamist groups and gangs have kidnapped approximately a dozen priests since July 2006.
Unknown men abducted two Syrian Orthodox priests in Mosul last month and demanded $1 million for their release. Church officials did not comment on whether a ransom was paid before the two men were released following a week in captivity.
An ancient Christian sect that retains its liturgy in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, the Syrian Orthodox church now counts an estimated 15,000 adherents in Turkey.
The majority of Assyrians living in southeastern Turkey were massacred or driven out by nationalist elements during the break-up of the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915. Thousands more fled the region to escape violence between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish government in the 1980s and 1990s.
Small numbers of Assyrian families have begun returning to Turkey in recent years following warm overtures from Turkish officials backed by the European Union.
Disputes have at times arisen between returning Assyrians and Kurdish families who have moved onto the Christians’ land during their absence.