Villagers at work in the vineyards of Yuhanna Aktas, in southeast Turkey, now know what use is intended for the suave grains of Mazrona grape: success coming, the Assyrian winemaker no longer needs to hideTo produce your wine.Coming from the Assyrian Christian minority of Midyat, about fifty kilometers from the Syrian border and not far from Iraq, Aktasa had to fight to be accepted by his Muslim neighbors and the Turkish authorities, who see with a bad eyeThe sale of alcoholic beverages "to become a winemaker and to revive the Assyrian culture which was disappearing was my childhood dream", says Yuhanna Aktas, 44 years old near the tanks installed in his native village of Bethkustan, 30 km from Midyat.
In the province of Mardin, where Midyat is located, only around 3000 Assyrians remain, a consequence of discrimination and violence that have pushed most of them to go to Istanbul or Europe.From 700,000 under the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians are only 15,000 in all Turkey.The departure of this community, of which some archaeologists claim it invented wine 2700 years ago, brought a blow to this activity.Also, when Yuhanna Aktasa wanted to establish her first production site in 2009, he had to face death threats, administrative harassment and, above all, the opposition of the inhabitants of the region."Workers did not want to work for me, peasants refused to sell me juranting that the wine is prohibited by Islam," he recalls.But his perseverance and finally, the success encountered, which allows him today to sell some 110.000 bottles per year throughout Turkey changed the situation."Peasants who once said to me: I prefer to throw my grapes that sell them to you, are now those who offer to get me," he smiles.
The key to success: Choosing local grape varieties - like this mazrona harvested in late harvest, whose taste recalls the Alsatian and very fragrant Gewurztraminer.Disappointed hopes for return and work in organic farming, fully natural fermentation, without adding yeast or sulfites to prolong the conservation."The other wines can cause headaches because of sulfites: that will never be the case with ours," he said.Faced with growing demand, Yuhanna Aktas launched a second production site in her native village.As in the other Assyrian villages in the region, most families from Bethkustan are now living in Europe and the United States.In the early 2010s, democratization reforms and the promise made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, to restore the robbed property of the Assyrians had aroused hope for a retourau country."Several Assyrians prepared themselves at that time to return to Turkey.They renovated their houses in ruins.But some have seen that their land had been confiscated by the state or the neighboring villagers.These problems still continue today, ”says Ayhan Gurkan, president of the Assyrian Midyat Culture Association.Many Assyrians were killed in 1915, on the sidelines of the Armenian genocide led by the Ottoman authorities during the First World War and who had ended up touching all Christian minorities.Subsequently, the survivors and their descendants gradually left Turkey, especially in the years 1980-1990 because of the clashes between the army and the Kurdish rebellion in the southeast regions.The hardening of the Turkish authorities with regard to the opponents and the Kurds after the failed putsch of 2016 finished extinguishing all hope of return.More recently, the fears of new persecution was awakened with the disappearance, in 2020, of an Assyrian couple in Sirnak, near the border with Iraq, and the condemnation of an Orthodox Assyrian priest for "helping an organizationterrorist".
"Returns to the villages are today suspended," says Yuhanna Aktas, himself prosecuted for her political activities in organizations close to the HDP (Democratic Party of Peoples, Pro-Kurdish opposition).Aces pressures are added the restrictions brought to the sale of alcohol by the authorities.Since the coming to power of the Islamo-conservative party of M.Erdogan, alcoholic beverages have jumped 300% and the sale of the alcohol is supervised by schedule restrictions.In May, it was even fully prohibited during the 17 days decreed to stem the pandemic of COVVI-19."Today, alcoholic beverages live their golden age in Turkey.The prohibitions generated a counter-reaction.Sales have exploded, "said the winemaker.
Passionate about wine, he intends to draw inspiration from his Renaissance in the region to do the same with Assyrian culture."Crushed, the grape dies during the vinification," he explains."But only to start his eternal life through wine".