Although I was born (7 February 1978) in Hengelo, the Netherlands, my family originates from Midyat in Tur-Abdin. This word means “the Mountain of the Servants (of God)” in Aramaic and is the name of the until recently heavily populated Aramean region in Southeast Turkey.

Until the age of 17, however, I did not speak, read or write the Aramaic (Syriac) mother tongue of my parents. I did not join a church or a cultural association and did not know anything about my identity. I just did not have any interest in knowing more about such matters either.

Then, quite unexpectedly, all changed in 1995 after attending a Bible study. The teacher introduced us to our church fathers and other riches of our cultural heritage. Once the veil of ignorance was lifted, I was filled with a sense of pride, honor and belonging to a great people.

This experience made me thirst for more knowledge about our fascinating history and identity. And so the search for my roots started.

Upright stone from 730 BC from Sam’al (Zincirli in South-Central Turkey). Aramaic phrases above the Aramean King (“I am Bar-Rakkab, son of Panamuwa”) and his scribe (“My lord is the Ba’al of Harran”).

As soon as I realized that Arameans are proud of an awesome past, while struggling for survival and fearing an uncertain future, I decided to dedicate my life to help raise their voice by defending and promoting their interests, needs and challenges. I discovered that working for my people was my destiny. It felt rewarding and it gave meaning to my life. That is why I chose to study Theology at the Evangelical Theological Highschool in Veenendaal and then Hebrew and Aramaic Languages and Cultures at Leiden University.

For more than 20 years now, serving the Aramean people and their cultural heritage has made my heart sing. It has made me feel like doing something unique, important and crucial. Because their existence is threatened, every form of service in their interest is very much needed and appreciated.

“Reading, speaking and writing about past, present and future questions regarding the Aramean (Syriac) Christians of the Middle East is my passion and my calling.”

 

 

 

Interviews concerning (ongoing) land grab in Tur-Abdin’s Iwardo village

Interviews (ongoing) land confiscation in the town of Midin in Tur-Abdin; this local priest later passed away

Role of My Family in the Netherlands

My dad’s father, Joseph, was the first Aramean who left Midyat for Switzerland in 1961; a year later, he returned home. Arriving in Hengelo in 1965, my mom’s father, Hanna Kulhan (Challma), settled as the first Aramean from Turkey in the Netherlands; in 1969, he would be reunited with his family.

My grandfather, parents and other relatives played a prominent role in founding the first Syriac Orthodox (St. John the Apostle) Church in Europe in 1977. They helped install the first Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of West Europe in 1979 in this church and, as interpreters, they assisted thousands of Aramean asylum seekers from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

My parents, David and Ayten, were the first Arameans who got married in the Netherlands on 29 March 1973. Maikel, Tony and James are my three younger brothers; they are always ready to support me when I need them. On 9 June 2017, God blessed me with a dream wedding with the woman of my dreams, Teodora; she is a lawyer by profession from Mainz, near Frankfurt.

‘What is it that you do?’

This is not easy to capture in a word or phrase. I have the honor and privilege to serve a great people that is in need of both your and my service. The kind of work I do for the Aramean people as the WCA president can perhaps best be described as a combination of these roles: a leader, diplomat, politician, human rights activist, speaker, writer, event organizer and more. A random selection of some photos should give you a small impression.

Since 1983, the World Council of Arameans (Syriac) (“WCA”) is the worldwide umbrella federation of the Aramean people and since 1999 it also acts as an NGO in special consultative status with the United Nations.

Meeting with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Then Foreign Minister (now President) Germany | Berlin

Press Conference Recep Erdoğan, then Prime Minister (now President) Turkey & Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdogan after her husband addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe | Strasbourg

Submitting Letter regarding the Aramean people to Sergej Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister | United Nations Office in Geneva

Press Conference by then Turkish President Abdullah Gül and then Council of Europe President (now Turkey’s Foreign Minister) Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu [right: meetings with him]. On my left: then Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu | Council of Europe in Strasbourg

Submitting document on Turkey’s indigenous Arameans to Bülent Arınç, then Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey | United Nations Office in Geneva

Welcoming at Syriac Orthodox Church in Cologne then Foreign Minister & meeting in The Hague with then Prime Minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoğlu

Meeting with and presenting the flag of Syria’s indigenous Aramean people to Muhsen Bilal, then Syria’s Minister of Information | Damascus

Meeting with and presenting the flag of Syria’s indigenous Aramean people to Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, Syria’s Grand Mufti (left) & Riyad Nassan Agha, then Syria’s Minister of Culture (right) | Damascus

Statement at Global Forum “Against the Crime of Genocide” in Yerevan on 22-23 April 2015 | I greeted many prominent people, incl. Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan (photo) and Russian President Putin

Meeting with Joëlle Milquet, then Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Internal Affairs and Equal Opportunities | Brussels

After his speech, chat with Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade | Budapest

Moderated an event co-organized by WCA | UN Office in Geneva

Unveiling a Sayfo monument in Brussels in memory of the hundreds of thousands Aramean genocide victims of 1914-1918

Event co-organized by WCA and Holy See (Vatican) – speakers included the Patriarchs of the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches and the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul – UN Office in Geneva

Proud of the WCA Delegation to the United Nations Office in Geneva

Proud of the WCA Delegation to the United Nations Office in Geneva / on the right photo and right of me is our Aramean (Syriac Maronite) friend and then guest speaker from Israel, Shadi Khalloul Risho

One of many statements to Human Rights Council | UN Office in Geneva

Meeting with His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch | Istanbul

Speaking and opening exhibition on Arameans in public library in my hometown of Hengelo together with our mayor

Speaking on religious freedom & panel discussion on Arameans in Turkey | both at the European Parliament in Brussels

1st International Syriac Studies Symposium | Mardin, Southeast Turkey

WCA Australia hosted both talks in Sydney and other events

During a live broadcast of Suryoyo Sat | Ahlen, Germany

The premiere of Sayfo: A Forgotten Genocide,  aired 2 days later (22 April 2015) on national TV | Enschede, the Netherlands