A group of 23 members of the Catholic parish of Birmensdorf-Aesch travelled from Switzerland to south-eastern Turkey on 21 April 2007 to get to know the Tur Abdin region and to visit the village of Kafro. Their Syrian Orthodox Christians, who were driven out of their homeland in the 1980s and are now allowed to return, have been supported by our parish project for two years. We help them to build up the infrastructure of their village. Our former vicar Marcel von Holzen and the current parish leader Thomas Leist led us through the religious and historical past of south-east Turkey. The trip itself was perfectly organised down to the last detail by parish project leader Peter Rost.
Burgeoning Tur Abdin
The journey was leading us with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul to Diyarbakir, from where we travelled around Tur Abdin in two minibuses for the next four days. We were guided by Yahko Demir, who had founded the Kafro Development Association in Switzerland, has been living in Kafro with his wife since the summer of 2006 and has meanwhile also founded such an association locally.
Our first destination was Mardin, the district capital of Tur Abdin, with the Deyrulzafaran Monastery, whose Archbishop Filüksinos Saliba Özmen welcomed us. Peter Rost introduced our parish group and presented a jar of honey from the parish area as a guest gift and thanked us for the welcome.
Since our first visit two years ago, Tur Abdin has begun to blossom, the Archbishop described, buds and leaves have grown from a withered branch, as it were, and the tree has awakened to new life. It is all the more important, he said, that we support the returnees to Kafro and help to ensure that Kafro can serve as a model for the other villages.
Great progress in Kafro
The houses, which were only partly under construction when we first visited in March 2005, are now almost all finished. Of the 16 new houses, 11 are now inhabited by returned families, including 14 children and young people. So that they can be integrated into the Turkish school system, they receive Turkish lessons three days a week in Midyat and Aramaic lessons two days a week in Kafro. Five families are still in Germany. They earn the money there to be able to pay the unexpectedly higher costs for the houses. In 2005, there was an urgent need to supply the future village with water and electricity. At that time we collected the money to make the water supply possible until the opening of Kafro on 1 September 2006. With our donations, a water reservoir was built in which the water pumped up from a depth of 360 metres can be collected, partially decalcified and brought to the houses with a high-pressure pump.
Although the electricity was supplied by the Turkish state to the edge of the village, it had to be transformed and conducted to the houses by the returnees. Unfortunately, it then became apparent that the electricity not only has large voltage fluctuations, but also fails very frequently. This can be several times a day for a short time, but can also last for days.
Therefore, an emergency generator was urgently needed, for which the inhabitants had to take out a loan and for the repayment of which we have been collecting money since 2006 under the motto "Electricity for Kafro". Peter Rost was able to raise a round sum, also thanks to generous individual donors, so that he was able to hand over a symbolic cheque for 30,000 Swiss francs to Yahko Demir on the joint evening with the Kafroyes. However, there are still almost 19,000 francs to be repaid, which we are now working to raise.
Kafro is alive!
On our arrival in Kafro we were assigned to different families who looked after us with touching attention. A large hall had been prepared for breakfast, dinner and the following get-together. Tables, chairs, china and cutlery had been brought together by the families, and the women spoiled us with food typical of the country. One evening was entirely dedicated to the questions that had come to us during our stay in Kafro and each of us had the opportunity to ask our questions and discuss them with the Kafroyes. We learned that Israil has started a construction business with a Muslim partner from Midyat. In addition, he harvested the first grapes last year and pressed the white wine from them, which was served to us and tasted excellent. A group of six Kafroyes plays football once a week against a Muslim team from the neighbouring village of Harabale.
Salida, in turn, has started a livestock farm with Nun and a Syrian Orthodox partner from Harabale and has a herd of more than 60 calves and cattle grazing. Two examples that show that it is possible to earn money even in the barren world of Tur Abdin.
The evening get-together brought close, human contact between our group and the Kafroyes. Many of us admired the consistency with which these Syrian Orthodox Christians have exchanged the luxuries of Switzerland, Germany and Sweden for the simple and deprived life in Kafro in order to take back possession of the land of their fathers.