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Hope Is High for Man Who May Become Turkey's First Christian MP for 50 Year

Image İstanbul - A 47-year-old former refugee has a chance to become the first Christian member of the Turkish parliament in half a century.

If he succeeds in parliamentary elections on Saturday, Erol Dora, an attorney, could also go some way in adjusting the electoral status quo in this mostly Muslim nation that critics say does not provide its religious minorities with fair representation.

"There has not been a Christian MP since the 1960s," Mr Dora said in an interview from his campaign in the south-eastern city of Mardin this week. "I don't think that's normal."

Mr Dora is a Syriac Christian, an ancient community that numbers about 13,000 in Turkey and that still uses Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

The region around Mardin is the traditional home of Syriac Christians, but many fled to Istanbul or western Europe when Turkey's south-east became a battleground between Kurdish rebels and the government in the 1980s.

If elected, Mr Dora has promised to speak for Syriac Christians in the national assembly and "work for democracy as a Turkish citizen".

Mr Dora is running as an independent backed by the Party for Peace and Democracy, or BDP, Turkey's main Kurdish party.

Political parties in Turkey must gain at least 10 per cent of the national vote to enter parliament, but that clause does not apply to independent candidates.

The BDP, which holds 5 to 6 per cent in the polls, hopes to send deputies to Ankara by having them run as independents.

In Mardin, a region with an ethnic and religious mix of Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Yezidis, Mr Dora has a chance of being among the five deputies the province will send to Ankara.

His life story resonates with voters in the region. Mr Dora was born in a Syriac village that was evacuated by the military during the fighting between rebels and soldiers in the 1990s.
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