Thursday, December 29, 2011

Historical Armenian Church re-opens in Istanbul

Built in 1828, but abandoned 100 years ago, during the conflict between Armenia and the Ottoman Empire, its restoration was part of Istanbul's 2010 European capitol of Culture's heritage and preservation projects.

Yet under the current political air, the re-opening of an Armenian Church has even greater significance. Turkey's current dispute with France over their government's approval of the “Armenian bill” has thrown Turkey's relations with its Armenian population under the spotlight.

Turkey says the deaths of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War 1, was a “fight between two good friends” and to recognize them as otherwise is reactionary.

But Turkish Armenians and 20 countries around the world, including France, don't see it that way.

The killing/murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 by Ogün Samast, a 17-year old Turkish nationalist, shows how fragile that friendship is.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christians in Turkey festively celebrate Christmas

The thousands of Christians in Turkey began their Christmas celebrations on Dec. 24, and several religious ceremonies were held in different churches as political figures like the president and prime minister issued holiday messages.
İstiklal Street was the center of activity where Christians gathered together to spend the evening. Some joined parties while many others went to church to pray.

Many Catholics celebrated Christmas with a religious service on the night of Dec. 24 at St. Antuan Church on İstiklal Street. The evening Christmas Eve service commemorates the fact that Jesus was born at night, more than 2,000 years ago.

Along with Christians, Muslims also visited the church that evening to watch the service. After singing hymns, bread spread with butter and marmite was distributed to visitors.

On Friday, President Abdullah Gül issued a Christmas message. Emphasizing that traditions and customs that have evolved over the centuries tie citizens together, Gül said in the message that “our values such as solidarity, good faith and compassion that also reflect the spirit of Christmas form the most valuable part of our common heritage. In this sense, I wish our citizens of all Christian traditions and the entire Christian world a Merry Christmas, lots of happiness and much success.”

Another ceremony was held at the Fener Greek Patriarchate on Sunday morning, Christmas Day.

Along with local Orthodox Christians, hundreds of Orthodox Christians from different provinces of Turkey and abroad attended the service led by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew. The service began at 9 a.m. in the Aya Yorgi church located in the garden of the Fener Greek Patriarchate.

Guests took photo of themselves in front of the decorated Christmas tree in the garden.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday that "we have lived on this soil together by sharing a common destiny and history and displaying tolerance, respect and understanding for each other."

In his Christmas message, Erdoğan said the residents of Turkey continue to live together as equal citizens and in unity.

“I believe that the spirit of unity and the climate of mutual love and respect will get stronger in the future. With these thoughts, I wish all Christians a happy Christmas in tranquility and in peace,” Erdoğan said.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Istanbul allocates some EUR 1,2 million for Saint Stephen church restoration

The municipality of Istanbul has allocated about TRY 2,5 million, or EUR 1,2 million, for the restoration of the Bulgarian church there Saint Stephen, architect Vasil Kitov, a Bulgarian observer of the repair and restoration works in the church, said in an interview with FOCUS News Agency.
However, it might turn out that the money will not be enough. My colleagues in Istanbul have told me that if more money is necessary for the restoration, it will not be a problem for the local authorities to approve it, he added.
He also said that a Bulgarian campaign is raising money for the restoration of the church’s iconostasis.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

İnanç Özgürlüğü Girisimi (Türkiye) / Freedom of Religion or Belief Initiative in Turkey

New blog to read
My friend's wife has started an excellent new blog on the subject of religious freedom in Turkey. Most of the articles are in Turkish, but she often writes a summary in English at the bottom of each article. I will be highlighting certain posts from time to time, but this blog would make an excellent add to your feed list.

Turkey Uncovers Al-Qaida Plot To Bomb Churches

Suspected members of terror group al-Qaida faced additional charges Saturday, December 10, including planning to bomb churches in the capital Ankara, Turkish media reported.

About a dozen militants who are already accused of planning to attack the United States Embassy in the capital had also plotted to target churches and Turkey's parliament, said the influential Taraf daily, which claimed to have seen the indictments against 11 alleged militants.

It said police also seized plans how to target the parliament building and a list of churches as well as names and home addresses of church staffers in Ankara.

Besides chapels on Ankara’s British, French, Greek, Italian and Vatican embassy grounds, the capital city has several international churches and some Turkish Protestant congregations.

Those mentioned are among 14 suspected al-Qaida militants police detained in a series of raids across western Turkey in July. They included alleged al-Qaida members with 700 kilograms of explosives, officials said.

Turkish officials said at the time that the militants were almost ready to attack the embassy when they were captured in July, just ahead of a visit to the nation by U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The additional planned bombing of churches is the latest in a series of sometimes deadly violence against Christians in this heavily Islamic nation.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Turkey: Mystery Surrounds Decision to Turn Byzantine Church Museum into a Mosque |

In its 1,700-year-old history, Hagia Sophia in the northwestern town of Iznik has witnessed many turning points. In 787, as a Byzantine church, it housed the Second Council of Nicaea, which restored the veneration of icons to Christianity. After the Ottoman conquest of the area, Hagia Sophia in 1331 was turned into a mosque, only to be destroyed in 1922 by the Greek army during the Greco-Turkish War.

Then, this November 6, the building, a museum and popular Iznik tourist destination, underwent its latest transformation: It officially reopened as a mosque.

The first call to prayer had resounded from its minaret five days earlier, on the evening of November 1. With a new wooden floor, carpets and a sound system for the minaret, Hagia Sophia was opened to Muslim worshippers during Kurban Bayrami, the Festival of Sacrifice, a four-day Islamic holiday that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God’s command.

But a day after the holidays, the mosque remained half-empty during noon prayers. Hagia Sophia’s latest transformation has created controversy not only among archeologists, historians and politicians, but also among local residents.

“There are so many mosques in the city and around here,” said Irfan Karaman, who runs a small restaurant across from the Byzantine building. “In my opinion, it was utterly unnecessary to turn the Hagia Sophia into one as well.”

He claimed that many people in Iznik feel similarly. “Before it was seven lira (about $3.83) to enter,” Karaman added, laughing. “At least now it’s free. It looks like our religion is cheaper than yours!”

Historian and documentary filmmaker Ömer Tuncer, also an Iznik resident, agrees. “This is a question of respect. What would Muslims say if the Al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem] was turned into a church now? The Hagia Sophia in Iznik is an important symbol in Christian faith, a place of pilgrimage,” Tuncer said. “It is clear that a building like this needs to be protected as a museum.”

Acknowledgements of Turkey’s Islamic heritage and beliefs have become more frequent in recent years, but the conversion of Iznik’s Hagia Sofia does not appear to stem from any government policy by the ruling, Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party. Although the changeover from a museum has sparked national debate, the decision is seen as locally rooted. Attendants at Hagia Sophia, however, declined to speak with about the mosque opening.

Those siding with the conversion project argue that Hagia Sophia has never been a museum. “This historical building was used as a mosque for 680 years, and has been in disrepair ever since 1922,” Adnan Ertem, head of the central government’s Directorate of Religious Foundations, asserted to Turkish media. “To hear the Muslim call to prayer in this house of worship made us all happy.”

Apparently, the entrance fee charged to tourists in the past escaped the notice of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç, who also maintains that the building “was never a museum.”

“It is possible that it was used as a church in the past,” Arinç told Turkish media. “But ever since the conquest of Bursa [in 1326], it has been used as a mosque.”

However, both the Governorate of Bursa, the administrative district in which Iznik is located, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism have listed and promoted the Iznik Hagia Sophia as a museum on their Turkish-language websites.

The explanation could lie in a red-tape loop-hole, Tuncer hypothesized. “Just as with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, there was never an official law to turn the Hagia Sophia in Iznik into a museum,” he commented. “That is why it is still listed as a mosque with the Directorate of Religious Foundations, but as a museum with the Ministry of Culture.”

After renovation of the building was finished in 2007, the Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum, and the local governorate placed a ticket booth at its entrance. Restaurant owner Karaman fears that the decision to turn the building now into an mosque will negatively impact the tourism sector, an important source of income for many Iznik residents.

Representatives of the Ministry of Culture were not available to comment about the changeover, but Tuncer asserts that “[i]t is up to them to veto this decision, and to protect buildings like this one.”

“When the church was turned into a mosque in 1331, it was a mere symbol of conquest, it happened in many cities,” he continued. “But in our times, this decision seems incomprehensible to me.”

Turkey: Mystery Surrounds Decision to Turn Byzantine Church Museum into a Mosque |

Monday, November 28, 2011

Attacks on missionaries continue, journalist says

After years of trials, investigations, media reports and countless allegations, a case into the notorious torture and murder of three missionaries in Malatya has yet to reach any satisfactory conclusion. A recent book on the subject, however, seeks to cut through the conjecture to shed important light on the background and details of the massacre.

Written by journalist İsmail Saymaz, “Hatred” (Nefret) examines the connections between Turkey’s extreme and almost “paranoid” measures toward missionary activities and the number of attacks against missionaries and churches in recent years.

Starting with the 1999 earthquake, in which more than 17,000 people lost their lives, Saymaz’s book demonstrates how certain media outlets and politicians claimed that the tragic disaster was being used for missionary propaganda.

“During the four years following the quake, 293 people, who were either opening churches or distributing the Bible, were sent to legal authorities for criminal acts,” Saymaz wrote in his book.

Just 54 people were identified as missionaries in Turkey in 2000, but Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) subsequently took up the issue on the grounds that such activities posed a major threat to the country.

“After the MGK [declared] missionaries as a national threat, the police raided several Protestant churches with guns in those years. Turkey’s Intelligence Service counted missionary acts as a second-degree religious threat. Many missionaries were followed by the police or gendarmerie. Turkey’s Religious Affairs [Directorate] distributed millions of Qurans with the support of politicians and the media. A common enemy was created through common action,” Saymaz told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview last week.

Malatya murders

“Hatred” focuses on the Malatya massacre, in which three missionaries, German citizen Tillman Geske and two Turks, Necati Aydın and Uğur Yüksel, were tied up and tortured before having their throats slit at the Zirve Publishing House, a Christian publisher, in the eastern province of Malatya on April 18, 2007.

Five young men, aged 19 and 20 at the time of the killings, confessed to the murder and were arrested for the crime. However, authorities are continuing to investigate the matter, which is believed by many to be an act of the “deep state” rather than a group of independent fanatics.

Saymaz reported the claims that one of the suspects, Emre Günaydın, may have been working with the police at the time. According to the testimony of other suspects, Günaydın had certain connections with police officers, the book said.

Another important finding of the book of the book is the revelation that police found a gun on Günaydın the day before the murders. Although that gun was seized by the police, they did not search his car, which allegedly contained two more guns – one of which was allegedly later used in the murder.

“We don’t know what connections Günaydın may have or whether the guns were ever found and not confiscated. But we do know that although the suspects are five young men, this was murder by tacit mandate,” Saymaz said.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Turkish Christians aid earthquake victims - News with a Christian Perspective

A small evangelical church in eastern Turkey is helping victims of two earthquakes who are sleeping in tents around the church.

The city of Van in eastern Turkey became the hub for aid workers and reporters after the Oct. 23 quake, but not all the help is coming from outside Turkey.

Other churches from across Turkey also have sent volunteers to the evangelical church in Van, which is coordinating their efforts in food distribution and medical care.

People by the dozens gather at the church daily. Believers feed them and share Christ's love.

"There aren't many of us, and we are tired," a member of the Van church said, "but we are doing all we can.

"They see the love and they are able to hear why we do this."

Among the quake victims: Fatma and her family, who are homeless and sockless. The refugees from Afghanistan had just moved into new housing when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake occurred Oct. 23 in eastern Turkey, killing about 600 people.

Fatma said she hasn't felt safe since. Neither do the others who share an open lot with her, living in tents between damaged buildings.

It's hard to blame them. Fear is rampant. Dozens of aftershocks shake the ground daily. The area sits on several major faults. Many people lost family and friends in the quake.

Survivors sleep in tents in sub-freezing weather without proper clothing. They run the risk of bronchitis -- and worse -- from the cold as well as the smoky fires lit inside their tents for warmth.

Some buildings still standing could crumble at any moment. Others are safe, but officials can't coax people back into them.

That task will be even harder now that a second tremor, a 5.6 magnitude, took down 25 weakened buildings on Nov. 9, just 17 days after the first quake.

Baptist Press - Turkish Christians aid earthquake victims - News with a Christian Perspective

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Turkey's minorities still skeptical about new constitution - Hurriyet Daily News

There are great expectations in the government camp as the process for the preparation of a new constitution is under way, but some members of the minorities voice their concerns about the new charter.

Representatives of Turkey’s various minority communities have expressed skepticism regarding ongoing efforts to draft a new constitution for the country.

“Considering the current political conditions in Turkey, I do not believe the new constitution will be an egalitarian one that embraces all sections of society,” Arev Cebeci, a Turkish-Armenian who became a candidate nominee for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the most recent election, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

If a new constitution is drafted, then it will be the first time such a text will be produced in a democratic milieu since the establishment of the founding constitution of 1924. Other previous constitutions were written in the wake of military coups in 1961 and 1980.

Despite all the pessimism and lukewarm attitude toward the new constitution, however, certain members of the Anatolian Greek and Bulgarian minorities remain hopeful.

“The new constitution is being prepared in goodwill. I have no doubts about this. I am certain this will be an egalitarian and successful constitution,” Dimitri Zotos, one of the managers of the Anatolian Greek Foundations Association (RUMVADER), told the Daily News.

“We expect freedom and democracy. Of course, everything will not be flawless, but the idea of a new constitution is a positive idea. The work is hope-inspiring,” Lüben Chalmov of the Bulgarian Community Council told the Daily News.

Turkey's minorities still skeptical about new constitution - Hurriyet Daily News

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Turkey Earthquake: Christians Respond to 7.2 Quake

The Christian group, Baptist Global Response has offered aid to those affected by the massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey Sunday Oct. 23.

“Teams are within hours of arriving in the area with tarps and other supplies to assist survivors,” said Patrick J. Melancon, managing director of disaster response and training at BGR, in a press release Monday, Oct. 24.

“The teams are a part of the network of responders trained by Baptist Global Response to provide both rapid response and longer-term assessments during a crisis like this one. These teams provide local response capability wherever the teams may reside,” he added.

The earthquake hit Sunday afternoon and lasted 25 seconds. The provincial capital of Van and the eastern city of Ercis were hit hardest.

Ercis, with a population of 75,000, is categorized as one of Turkey’s most earthquake-prone zones. According to CNN, the earthquake has killed more than 270 people and injured more than 1,000.

“Turkey is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because it sits on major geological fault lines,” reported BBC News.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Armenians claim roots in Diyarbakır

A group of Armenians, raised as Sunni Muslims, will be baptized today as Armenian Orthodox christians at the historic St. Giragos (Surp Giragos) Armenian Church in Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

The church, which was reopened on Oct. 22 following two years of restoration work, will host the baptism ceremony for dozens of Sunni Muslims of Armenian origin, whose ancestors converted to Islam after the 1915 killings in the Ottoman era.

Among those to be baptized is Gaffur Türkay, who also contributed to the restoration of the church. Türkay was going through emotional fluctuations, he told the Hürriyet Daily News.

“I wish this church had always been open,” he said. “It is unbelievable to be together here with people from all around the world with whom I share the same origins.”

“We have been ostracized by both Sunni Muslims and Armenians,” said Behçet Avcı, also known as Garod Sasunyan, who will also be baptized. “It is a very emotional moment for me and I’m a bit upset, because unfortunately we do not belong to either side.”

The baptism ceremony, which will be closed to the press and outside visitors, will be held today at the St. Giragos Armenian Church and will be led by Deputy Patriarch Archbishop Aram Ateşyan. The names of those to be baptized will not be revealed for security reasons.

A religious service was held yesterday at the church, one day after it was re-opened following the completion of the restoration work.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Turkey: world's largest unreached people group?

It's called the largest unreached people group in the world. It's a country that was the focus of the Apostle Paul's writings in Scripture, yet today it's a spiritually dark place. We're talking about the country of Turkey. It's a country in which being a Christian can cost you your life, or at the very least can cause you to be an outcast of society.

The Evangelical Alliance Mission, or TEAM, operates the government-approved St. Paul Cultural Center in Antalya. It had been closed because of bureaucratic red tape. TEAM Missionary James Bultema says, "The issue with our architect has been fully resolved, and SPCC Antalya is advancing by the day toward full operational mode. Each week, the number of activities picks up, and by the end of October we will be, Lord willing, back into full swing. One final permit is yet to be obtained, but no significant barrier stands in the way of our getting it, just a bit more work."

Pastor Koc came to Christ through the Cultural Center. "I went there to meet with a Turkish pastor and heard the Gospel; I quickly changed my life and came to Christ."

As he was discipled and received Bible training, Koc started only the second church in Antalya with a couple of people. In 18 months, 10 people have given their hearts to Christ. Now he's the pastor of a church of about 20 families. Pastor Koc says it's a challenge being a new Christian in Turkey "because all of a sudden, everything changes. One of my friends who is a lawyer came to Christ, and he said, 'Now what am I going to do? If I can't lie, I cannot be a lawyer in Turkey.' In many jobs, they ask you to lie in many situations. So, it is very difficult for Christians to find a job."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Baptists in Iraqi's Kurdistan Mark Historic Milestone for Christians

Just as the sun was rising in the west Sept. 29, a new day dawned in Iraqi Kurdistan as Governor Tamar Ramadhan gave Baptists two acres of land worth $2 million for the Grace Baptist Cultural Center--a multi-phase project including a medical clinic, school, athletic facility, church building and seminary in the town of Simele.

Standing in for Ramadhan, Gurgis Shlaymun, the deputy governor of Kurdistan's Regional Government in Dohuk, joined a team from Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, along with Iraqi, Jordanian and Brazilian Baptists and other evangelical Christians at an hour-long ceremony prior to cementing the top on an engraved, marble cornerstone marking the new property.

Shlaymun, an Assyrian Christian first elected to his post in the Muslim majority government in 2005, delivered remarks at a community center near the undeveloped property in the growing village of Simele. In the Duhok Province of Iraqi's Kurdistan, Simele is on the main road of an agricultural plain about 10 miles from the Turkish border.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Turkey's Elephant in the Room: Religious Freedom

With his triumphant tour of the countries of the Arab Spring this month, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has managed to set up Turkey on the international stage as a role model for a secular democracy in a Muslim country — as, in his words, “a secular state where all religions are equal.”

The only trouble is that he has yet to make that happen for Turkey.

The relationship between religion and the state, ever the sore spot of Turkish identity, is one of the most explosive issues of the debate on the new constitution that Mr. Erdogan has pledged to give the country in the new legislative term that opens Saturday.

That debate will have to deal with the elephant in the room: the total control that the state exerts over Islam through its Religious Affairs Department, and the lack of a legal status for all other religions in a predominantly Sunni Muslim society.

“Turkey may look like a secular state on paper, but in terms of international law it is actually a Sunni Islamic state,” Izzettin Dogan, a leader of the country’s Alevi minority, charged at a joint press conference with leaders of several other minority faiths last week in Istanbul.

Mr. Dogan is honorary president of the Federation of Alevi Foundations, which represents many of what it claims are up to 30 million adherents of the Alevi faith, an Anatolian religion close to Sufi Islam but separate and distinct in its beliefs and practices.

“The state collects taxes from all of us and spends billions on Sunni Islam alone, while millions of Alevis as well as Christians, Jews and other faiths don’t receive a penny,” Mr. Dogan said, referring to the $1.5 billion budget of the Religious Affairs Department. “What kind of secularism is that?”

A bureaucratic juggernaut with its own news service and a dedicated trade union, the Religious Affairs Department employs more than 106,000 civil servants, according to its latest annual report, including 60,000 imams and 10,000 muezzins, all of them trained, hired and fired by the state.

At the institution’s ministry-size headquarters in Ankara, state-employed astronomers calculate prayer times around the world, while state-educated theologians pore over the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad in the library and issue the religious rulings known as fatwas.

The department writes the sermons for Friday Prayer in mosques across the country as well as the textbooks for the religious instruction that is mandatory in schools. It publishes books and periodicals in languages including Tatar, Mongol and Uygur, and issues an iPhone app featuring Koranic verses and a prayertime alarm. The department has a monopoly on Koran courses in the country, and it organizes the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, right down to the vaccination of pilgrims.

So centralized is the department’s control that its new president, Mehmet Gormez, is considered innovative for announcing his intention to train preachers to deliver sermons in person, instead of having them piped into the mosque from the department over a public-address system.

“In Turkey, Islam does not determine politics, but politics determine Islam,” Gunter Seufert, a sociologist, concluded in a 2004 study of the department entitled “State and Islam in Turkey.”

“Run by a state agency, religion serves the nation state for the purpose of unifying the nation and Westernizing its Muslims,” he added.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Archbishop:Turkey destroys religious heritage in occupied Cyprus

Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II has indicted Turkey for the destruction of holy sites in the northern Turkish occupied areas of the island, calling on the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, Elias, to assist in any way possible and to exert pressure on the matter in the international arena.

The Archbishop, who paid an official visit to the Orthodox Church of Georgia, at the invitation of Patriarch Elias, was speaking at a concelebrating ceremony on Sunday in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.

He said that more than 500 Orthodox churches and monasteries in the occupied areas are in a miserable condition.

“Some of these churches and monasteries have been destroyed, others have been transformed into mosques, night clubs, army camps even stables. Our holy icons and other religious items have been sold to Europe and America”, he noted.

He said that the Church of Cyprus has been long demanding a permit from the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime in order to repair these churches and monasteries, however there has been no response so far.

The Archbishop also referred to the Cyprus problem, noting that Turkey illegally invaded Cyprus in 1974, occupying 37% of the country, adding that it wants to take over the occupied areas and the rest of Cyprus.

Turkey, he pointed out, is implementing “ethnic cleansing” tactics in Cyprus, by driving away all Christian Orthodox from their homeland and bringing Muslim settlers from Anatolia, changing the demographics of the whole of Cyprus.

He spoke of the very good relations between the Church of Cyprus and the Orthodox Church of Georgia, noting that a great number of Georgians today reside and work in Cyprus.

Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, hundreds of valuable artifacts have been stolen from the northern Turkish occupied areas of the island and found their way into the black market overseas. More than 500 churches have been pillaged, destroyed or turned into museum, inns or silos. Many archaeological sites and other places belonging to the country’s 9,000 year old cultural heritage have been abandoned to the elements.

The Church of Cyprus has, at different times, managed to secure the return of stolen religious items, illegally stolen and sold on the black market abroad.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Religious groups call on gov’t to draft secular constitution

A number of religious groups' leaders who gathered on Monday to introduce a study on the demands of various religious groups in Turkey said that the new constitution of the country should be secular.

“This is a Sunni state because the Religious Affairs Directorate sponsors only the affairs of Sunni adherents of Islam. No Jewish, no Christian, no Alevi can get a cent from the huge budget of the directorate. There is no such secular state in the world,” said İzzettin Doğan, the head of the Cem Foundation, an Alevi organization.

Speaking at the release of the study, “Belief Groups in Turkey: A new framework aimed at issues and demands,” hosted by the İstanbul Policy Center at Sabancı University and its Education Reform Initiative, Doğan emphasized the importance of being neutral, non-discriminative and maintaining an equal distance to all belief groups in a secular state.

“The Religious Affairs Directorate should be restructured from A to Z to include all religious groups,” Doğan added and said that their work will help to push the government to not put its intentions to make a new constitution aside.

The report’s suggestions included that opening places of worship should be a right; the state should take initiatives regarding handing down religious beliefs from one generation to another, religious leaders’ selection and education; beliefs and members of religious groups should not be seen as threatening elements to societal and cultural security, and they should be treated as Turkey’s historical and cultural richness; and all religious groups should be treated equally without discriminating against them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Christian TV Expands Its Middle East/North Africa Footprint

It may seem odd, but a Christian TV network for and by people of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region is expanding its footprint and making inroads despite regional turmoil and fears of rising Islamic fundamentalism.

"We don't attack Islam and present the Christian faith in a positive way, on women, disabilities, and other matters," said Terence Ascott, CEO of Sat-7. "We don't want to get into a debate, into a polemic, on the air."

In 15 years of existence Ascott and his associates have attracted over 15 million viewers in a region that's mostly Muslim -- not by converting Muslims, but by creating an environment that's less hostile towards Christians.
"It's a human right for everyone in the world to hear the Christian message and decide whether or not to embrace it. It's our right to propagate the truth of our faith," he added.

It may seem like a tall order for this transplanted Brit who has lived in the Middle East for decades and hops around from his Cyprus headquarters to run five satellite TV ministry channels, primarily in Arabic, but more recently in Farsi (Persian) and Turkish.

One way to avoid issues that divide Christians where so many denominations and sects exist, is not covering the sacraments, though some programs about how different churches define the sacraments may be aired.

Some religious groups face difficulties in Turkey

Despite the fact that Turkey’s constitution protects religious freedom, some constitutional provisions regarding the integrity and existence of the secular state restrict these rights.

The International Religious Freedom Report issued by State Department says some religious groups also faced difficulties regarding freedom of worship, registration with the government, property ownership, and the training of their followers and clergy.

“There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Threats against non-Muslims created an atmosphere of pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslim communities. Many Christians, Bahais, Jews, and Alevis faced societal suspicion and mistrust, and some elements of society continued to express anti-Semitic sentiments.

Additionally persons wishing to convert from Islam sometimes experienced social harassment and violence from relatives and neighbors,” the report reads.

It mentions that the religious groups lost numerous properties to the state in the past and continued to fight efforts by the state to expropriate properties.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Armenians hold second religious ceremony at Akdamar church

A second religious ceremony has been held since the historic Sept. 19, 2010 service at the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on the island of Akdamar in the eastern province of Van on Sunday.

Hymns and prayers resonated on Akdamar Island in 2010, 95 years after religious services ended in the Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, which occupies a special place in medieval Armenian art and architecture and is a jewel for Turkey, as indicated by Turkish and foreign observers.

Known in English as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Cross, the church was in ruins and on the verge of collapse. However, by order of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism started a restoration project in 2005 to preserve the historical identity of the church. The church has since become a hotspot for domestic and international tourists since being opened as a museum by the ministry after its restoration work was completed in 2007.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Turkey’s Sacred Ruins

For souls in torment, your helpful guidebook might say, there’s no better destination than the holy sites of Turkey’s Hatay province. I rediscovered the area’s sacred legacy on a recent visit to the frontier between Turkey and Syria, some 35 years after I had lived briefly in Hatay as a boy mesmerized by the dreamy sensation of ancient time. My physician father roamed the hospitals of the province, a tendril of Turkish territory that juts into Syria along the Mediterranean. During his work trips, he often took me to see mysterious ruins.

This past June, I returned to Hatay to report on the border-crossing stories of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. I stayed with other colleagues at a hotel in the little town of Harbiye, about six kilometers from Antioch en route to the mountainous border. Antioch is the provincial capital, famous for its spicy approach to Turkish food, for founding the earliest Christian churches, for the river Orontes threading like a ganglion of history along its length. Modern Antiochenes surprise visitors with their relaxed and mild secularism—no women in black veils here; lots of flesh and shapely clothing and fraternizing between the sexes.

A "satisfied" Bartholomew I hopes for the reopening of the Halki School

Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, has expressed great satisfaction with the decision of Prime Minister Erdogan Tayep to return properties confiscated after 1936 to all non-Islamic minorities. At the same time, meeting the Turkish prime minister, he expressed the hope that there will be "further steps". Erdogan replied, "This is just the beginning."

The patriarch also strongly hopes in the return and the theological school of Halki to the Orthodox Church, and that the academy, which the Turkish government closed in 1971, will be re-opened.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tax-funded charter schools founded by Turkish Muslims are trying to practice but not preach

A sign outside the Albuquerque School of Excellence in New Mexico proclaims, "College ready, Career ready, Life ready." The ASE building is a former Safeway, freshly painted neon orange and yellow. Inside, Chinese dragons, colorful butterflies, and self-portraits adorn the bright blue, yellow, and red halls, remnants of a recent art show.

Many of the charter school's 214 K-8 students are members of minorities from the neighborhood, drawn by its academic rigor and focus on science and math. One of its eighth-graders won first place in the 2011 New Mexico Science and Engineering Fair. Last school year, ASE's first, included celebrations for Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo. It plans to add a high school and uses a science-oriented curriculum popular in Texas public schools.

ASE parents seem pleased. Lewanna Ramsey, the mom of an eighth-grader and a special-needs sixth-grader at ASE, says she appreciates principal Ahmet Cetinkaya's open-door policy. "At a public school," she says, "you hardly ever see the principal or other staff. Here, I'm always in Mr. Cetinkaya's office."

But there's a bit more to the story. ASE is tied to sympathizers of Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic Turkish Muslim cleric now living in rural Pennsylvania. "Gulen," according to Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, "is probably the most subtle and capable Islamist now active." His millions of followers around the world promote his moderate brand of Islam partly through their businesses, cultural foundations, and media but primarily through schools and colleges—several hundred on five continents. Ask Cetinkaya about ASE's relationship to Gulen and he shifts in his chair and looks away. He and three of his teachers are from Turkey.

The schools have generated critical examination. A New York Times article in June detailed how the Harmony charters seem to favor local Turkish businessmen in awarding building contracts. While a large majority of Gulen charter staff and teachers are usually American, the administrators are usually Turkish. Every year the schools import several hundred male teachers from Turkey on H1-B temporary worker visas (684 in 2009, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report), making them one of the largest users of such visas in the country.

Gulen administrators claim that quality science and math teachers are hard to find, but teachers unions and some parent groups find that hard to believe. The Oklahoman quoted Jenni White, president of Restore Oklahoma Public Education, asking in May, "If Oklahoma teachers are being laid off, why are we as Oklahoma taxpayers paying people from not even inside our country to come and teach our children?"

In the United States, Gulen-inspired charters are unlikely to promote Islam directly, according to an American businessman who lived in Turkey for 12 years. (WORLD agreed not to name him because he still owns a business and travels there.) Instead, he said, Gulenists try to make appreciative parents and students more accepting of Islam. The long-term approach, he said, is to "just practice Islam—we don't even have to preach—and people will realize the justice of our system and convert."

Many American evangelicals have become adept in criticizing and opposing militant Islam. The Gulen schools offer a new challenge: When Christians shirk from developing schools for low-income students, Gulen moves in.

Greeks in Istanbul Cry Tears of Joy for the Return of their Properties

Greeks in Istanbul welcomed Erdogan’s decision to return confiscated property to minorities, with tears of joy in their eyes.
As the representative of minority institutions under the General Directorate for Foundations and member of the Greek minority of Istanbul, Lakis Vingas, stated to Newsit; “yesterday was a historic day. Mr. Erdogan’s determination is one of a leader, as the issue was solved by a government decision and did not go through general assembly. This is evidence to Mr. Erdogan’s consistency in the progress of issues, faced by minorities here for many decades. We neither received a gift, nor compensation; we simply took back what belonged to us. This is justice and what we have been waiting for. We are now in the third phase of the return of minority properties and are very satisfied.
From now on, we should be mindful not only for the return of property, but also for the proper management and future course of the entire property. For us, for example, the return of the Galata School is very important. In addition, a large property we own in the Kantyli community, some Monasteries and other properties and of course cemeteries”.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ancient Antioch still home to many Christians

High above the modern Turkish city of Antakya (Antioch) lays a relic of a former age. The Church of St Peter, now a pilgrimage site with a clear trail marking the way, was once a hidden centre of early Christian worship.

Composed of just a one-room cave about 13 meters wide, this sanctuary was crucial to developments in the history of Near Eastern Christianity, and is old enough to be mentioned in the Bible itself. It is here, according to legend, that followers of the newly emerging religion first called themselves Christians.

Though the church now serves as a heritage site and museum operated by the Turkish state, a hike down the mountain and into the city below leads visitors to a number of churches that have active congregations and daily services.

Official studies of the population of Turkey estimate the number of non-Muslim citizens to be less than .02%. In this corner of the country, however, the religious and ethnic diversity is much higher and, significantly, religious conflict nearly absent.

"There are no problems here," the head priest of the Catholic Church of Antioch, Domineco Bertogli, explains. "We live openly, we worship openly."

Indeed, the Italian priest's church is located next-door to a large mosque, and prominent plaques point the way.

Adalet, a young woman who works in the church with Bertogli, grew up in Antakya and takes pride in the city's level of tolerance and multiculturalism. She points to a poster hanging on a bulletin board that also displays church announcements and service hours.

Antakya is the largest city in the province of Hatay, and, like many urban areas, has developed as a centre of diversity. Farther away from the city, however, active Christian communities still prosper.

Near the Syrian border in the Altinozu district, two almost exclusively Christian villages remain, Sarilar and Tokacli. Villagers are nearly all Orthodox, with perhaps a handful of Catholic families.

Emin Mizikacioglu, an Orthodox Christian who runs a small market in Sarilar, expresses a mixture of tolerance and pride regarding religious differences.

"We live together like brothers, all of us," he says, then breaking off his sentence to tease the Muslim bus driver about how slowly the vehicle is moving.

A few minutes later, when Sarilar becomes visible over a ridge in the hilly landscape, he softens his voice and says with some excitement, "This is my village. You won't find a single Muslim family here. Not even one."

This dual perspective -- that Muslims and Christians and Jews are all siblings, but that a Christian village is still something to be treasured -- may be part of what enables these varied communities to maintain their own identities while engaging peacefully and productively with other groups.

Bertogli, perhaps drawing on his experiences while working elsewhere in Turkey, emphasises that while Antakya and its environs may truly be cities of peace, they are not necessarily indicative of the situation elsewhere.

"There isn't just one Turkey," he says. "There are many Turkeys."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Searching for Lost Armenian Churches and Schools in Turkey

Armenian Churches in Turkey before 1915

From The Armenian Weekly

On July 21, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee overwhelmingly adopted the Berman-Cicilline Amendment based upon the Return of Churches resolution spearheaded by Representatives Ed Royce and Howard Berman, with a vote of 43 to 1, calling on Turkey to return stolen Armenian and other Christian churches, and to end the repression of its Christian minorities.

Where are these lost or stolen Armenian churches in Turkey? How many were there before 1915, the turning point in the Armenians' world, when they were uprooted and wiped out from their homeland of more than 3,000 years? How many churches are there now? Considering that every Armenian community invariably strove to build a school beside its church, how many Armenian schools were there in Turkey before 1915, and how many are there now? How many Armenian churches and schools are left standing now in Turkey is the easier part of the issue: There are only 34 churches and 18 schools left in Turkey today, mostly in Istanbul, with about less than 3,000 students in these schools. The challenging and frustrating issue is how many were there in the past.

Recent research pegs the number of Armenian churches in Turkey before 1915 at around 2,300. The number of schools before 1915 is estimated at nearly 700, with 82,000 students. These numbers are only for churches and schools under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and the Apostolic Church, and therefore do not include the numerous churches and schools belonging to the Protestant and Catholic Armenian parishes. The American colleges and missionary schools, mostly attended by Armenian youth, are also excluded from these numbers. The number of Armenian students attending Turkish schools or small schools at homes in the villages are unknown and not included. Finally, these numbers do not include the churches and schools in Kars and Ardahan provinces, which were not part of Turkey until 1920, and were part of Russia since 1878.

The two maps show the wide distribution of Armenian churches and schools in Turkey before 1915. The two lists for the Armenian churches and schools are by no means complete, but should be regarded as a preliminary study that can serve as foundation for further research. The place names are based on the old Ottoman administrative system, instead of that of modern Turkey. They are ably assembled by Zakarya Mildanoglu, from various sources such as the Ottoman Armenian National Council Annual reports, Echmiadzin Journal, Vienna Mkhitarists, and studies by Teotig, Kevorkian, and Nishanyan.

Lost Churches
Adana: Center and villages, Yureghir, Ceyhan, Tarsus, Silifke, Yumurtalik, Dortyol, Iskenderun, 25 churches

Amasya: Vezirkopru, Mecitozu, Merzifon, Havza, Gumushacikoy, Ladik, 15 churches

Ankara: Center, Haymana, Sincan, 5 churches

Antakya: Center, Samandagh, 7 churches

Antep: Center, Nizip, Halfeti, 4 churches

Arapkir (Malatya): Arapkir and Kemaliye villages, 19 churches

Arganimadeni (Elazig): Erganis, Siverek, Bulanik, Kahta, 10 churches

Armash (Akmeshe): 2 churches

Artvin: Center and villages, 11 churches

Balikesir: Balikesir, Mustafakemalpasha, Biga, Bandirma, 6 churches

Bayburt: Bayburt center and villages, 34 churches

Beshiri (Diyarbakir): Beshiri and villages, 14 churches

Bilecik (Bursa): Golpazar, 4 churches

Bingol (Genc): Center and villages, 11 churches

Bitlis: Center and villages, 30 churches

Bitlis: Tatvan, Ahlat, Mutki, Hizan, 66 churches

Bolu: Duzce, Akyazi, 5 churches

Bursa: Center, Orhangazi, 11 churches

Charsancak ( Tunceli): Mazgirt, pertek, Pulumur, Hozat, and villages, 93 churches

Chemishgezek (Tunceli): 20 churches

Chungush (Diyarbakir): Chungush center and villages, 2 churches

Dersim: Hozat, Pertek, 28 churches

Divrigi (Sivas): Center and villages, 25 churches

Diyadin (Erzurum): Diyadin and villages, 4 churches

Diyarbakir: Center and villages, 11 churches

Edirne: Center and villages, 4 churches

Egin (Erzincan): Kemaliye, Ilic, and villages, 17 churches

Egin: 3 churches

Eleshkirt (Erzurum): Eleshkirt and villages, 6 churches

Ergani: Ergani and villages, 11 churches

Erzincan: Erzincan center and villages, 52 churches

Erzurum: Center, Aziziye, Yakutiye, Ashkale, Narman, Ispir, Oltu, Shenkaya, Horasan, Pazaryolu, and villages, 65 churches ...
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CBS: Turkey to return confiscated property

(AP) ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's government is returning hundreds of properties confiscated from the country's Christian and Jewish minorities over the past 75 years in a gesture to religious groups who complain of discrimination that is also likely to thwart possible court rulings against the country.

A government decree published Saturday returns assets that once belonged to Greek, Armenian or Jewish trusts and makes provisions for the government to pay compensation for any confiscated property that has since been sold on.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to announce the decision formally later Sunday when he hosts religious leaders and the heads of about 160 minority trusts, at a fast-breaking dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, officials said.

The properties include former hospital, orphanage or school buildings and cemeteries. Their return is a key European Union demand and a series of court cases has also been filed against primarily Muslim Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights. Last year, the court ordered Turkey to return an orphanage to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. ...
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Friday, August 26, 2011

WikiLeaks: Israeli envoy to Turkey says Erdogan ‘hates us religiously’

An Israeli ambassador described Turkey’s prime minister as a “fundamentalist” who hates the Jewish state on religious grounds, according a U.S. diplomatic cable recently released.

The confidential October 2009 cable cites the musings of Gabby Levy, Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, on why Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had turned on Turkey’s longtime ally.

“Levy dismissed political calculation as a motivator for Erdogan’s hostility, arguing the prime minister’s party had not gained a single point in the polls from his bashing of Israel,” says the cable, which was sent by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

“Instead, Levy attributed Erdogan’s harshness to deep-seated emotion: ‘He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously’ and his hatred is spreading,” according to the cable.

Changes in school religious education fail to resolve fundamental problems

Children across Turkey are preparing to return to school on 19 September. For the first time, the official textbooks for use in all but the few ethnic minority schools for non-Muslims will include not only teaching of Sunni Islam, but also on Alevi and Caferi traditions, both widely shared movements within Islam in Turkey. The Education Ministry's General Directorate of Religious Education confirmed that the textbooks for the compulsory Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics (RCKE) lessons have been amended to include additions agreed with representatives of these two communities, though the textbooks are not yet publicly available to verify this.

Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics classes, for between one and two hours a week, are compulsory in almost all primary and secondary schools. Lessons have up till now been heavily based on the Sunni branch of Islam, and the textbooks are prepared and published by the Education Ministry.

RCKE classes have not always been compulsory in Turkey. Because the military leadership of 1980 saw the value of a certain form of "restrained religion" as a unifying factor for the nation and as a preventative tool against what it considered marginal movements, a provision was inserted into Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution making RCKE classes compulsory in primary and secondary education. The same provision goes on to say that "education and instruction in religion and ethics shall be conducted under state supervision and control", explicitly demonstrating the state's strong interest in imposing its control.

The Chair of the Association of Protestant Churches, Zekai Tanyar, thinks it is unrealistic to expect that there will be no religion classes in Turkey. He views the current practice as the teaching of a certain denomination within Islam, and hence students should have the possibility of exemption. The important thing, as he sees it, is the consequence of the RCKE lessons: because of the narrow focus of the content, students are raised with a narrow view of religion and tend to see members of other religions or traditions as "the other".

Ricciardone Revises Response to Senate Inquiry on Number of Churches in Turkey

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, responding to a wave of grassroots outrage and growing Congressional concern, backed away from his most obvious and offensive misrepresentations about Turkey’s destruction of Christian churches, but sparked renewed controversy by artificially inflating the number of currently operating Christian houses of worship, and again using strained euphemisms to help Ankara escape responsibility for its crimes, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Following broad-based concerns expressed by Armenian-American community and religious leaders, Ricciardone amended his earlier response to Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Robert Menendez (D-NJ), in which he had argued, without any basis in fact, that a majority of Christian churches operating in the territory of present-day Turkey prior to 1915 were still functioning today.

In a correction obtained by the ANCA on August 22, Ricciardone took the “opportunity to clarify the record,” suggesting that of the 2,000 churches there before 1915, they are not all still functioning. He said, “The corrected text should read as follows: Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are no longer operating as churches. Christian community contacts in Turkey report that a total of 200-250 churches that date to 1915 and before offer Christian worship services at least once a year. Many churches do not offer services every week due to insufficient clergy or local Christian populations. Some churches of significance operate as museums, others have been converted into mosques or put to other uses. Still others have fallen into disrepair or may have been totally destroyed.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Safeguarding Christian Heritage in Modern Day Turkey

Although Turkey is a secular state, there have been continued reports of discrimination and abuse based on religious belief or practice, as well as routine confiscation of Christian properties through discriminatory laws. The 2007 International Religious Freedom Report stated that religious minorities in Turkey are denied positions in governmental institutions because of their religious beliefs. In fact, Turkey has been on the International Religious Freedom “Watch List” for three consecutive years because of discrimination and abuse based on religion.

As proof of its religious tolerance, the Turkish government brags that it has restored the historic Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island. However, instead of returning the holy site to the Armenian community and allowing religious services, the church was turned into a secular museum where services can only be held once a year, and only by permission of the Turkish Government. In fact, just last year, a group of children who wished to offer a prayer at Holy Cross were forced out by Turkish police. Today, this historic church, which was once the seat of an Armenian Catholicosate from the 12th to 19th centuries, and what is often depicted as a symbol of Armenian Christianity in Western Armenia, is reduced to a mere tourist attraction.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swimsuits, Gays, and Christians: Survey Sheds Light on Values, Trends in Turkey

A recent survey in Turkey highlighted a decrease in people’s confidence in the Turkish Armed Forces, an increased trust in the government, and revealed intolerance towards ethnic, sexual, and other minorities.

Only 15 percent of respondents agreed that “there is great regard and respect towards human rights in our country,” while 16 percent believed that there is no respect for human rights in Turkey.

However, the more discussed revelation was the low level of tolerance Turks have towards certain groups and people. Topping the list of those deemed intolerable were gays and lesbians (with 84 percent of respondents saying they do not desire a gay or lesbian neighbor), followed by individuals infected with AIDS (74 percent), couples living together out of wedlock (68 percent), atheists (64 percent), proponents of Sharia (54 percent), Christians (48 percent), followers of other faiths (39 percent), immigrants and foreign workers (39 percent), women who wear shorts (26 percent), those who do not fast (20 percent), and those voting for a competing political party (17 percent).

The percentage of interviewees who said religion is important to them was around 92 percent, a reality that has not changed in 15 years. Eighty-one percent considered themselves devout; 87 percent said they fast; 61 percent thought it a sin for women to wear bathing suits; 79 percent believed theirs is the one true religion; and 85 percent said they believe in creationism, not evolution.

The survey also revealed that the level of trust Turks have towards others—including family and friends— was low. Only 15 percent said they trusted others, while 61 percent said they do not trust people from other nationalities.

The survey underscored significant gender issues in Turkey: 30 percent of those surveyed said some women deserved to be beaten by their husbands—and 27 percent of women agreed—which is a stark increase from 19 percent in 1996. The survey also showed that men were deemed better politicians than women (71 percent agreed), that males were fit to head the family unit (74 percent), women ought to obey their husbands (62 percent), and men can have more than one wife (23 percent).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ani looks for inclusion on World Heritage List

The spectacular ruins of Ani, the capital of an ancient Armenian kingdom and important city on the Silk Road, could soon be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, according to local authorities.

Turkey: Christian Monastery Fights for Muslim Tenants

In 1972, Yorgo Güller, a Greek Christian from Istanbul, visited leafy Burgazada, one of the Princes’ Islands just off the city’s coast, looking for love. Almost forty years later, he is still there tending to a neglected, 18th century Greek monastery.

Summer homes still line the vegetable garden of Aya Yorgi Garibi, which some believe translates as “Saint George the Destitute.” But the only year-round tenants are Güller, his Muslim wife, and 48 families of Alevi Shi’a Muslims, Turkey’s largest religious minority.

The tolerance at Yorgi Garibi recalls the days of cosmopolitan Constantinople, when Greeks numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But a land dispute dating to the expulsions of Greeks in the 20th century threatens that easiness. In an ironic twist, the Turkish government is now telling the low-income Muslim families to leave.

Fast forward to a more peaceful time. Güller is Aya Yorgi’s caretaker. Inspired by churches he had seen on a boat trip around the Greek islands, Güller gave the monastery’s faded green and yellow façade a new coat of paint. “Blue like the sky and white like innocence,” he said of the choice. “An Armenian friend of mine donated the paint. And then a Turkish friend and me painted the walls ourselves, tying ladders on top of each other because we didn’t have the money or the authorization for scaffolding.”

Greek families on the island asked him not to paint the church blue and white, the colors of the Greek flag, afraid Turkish authorities might see it as a provocation. To the neighbors’ surprise, the authorities were delighted. The local mayor voiced his approval, as did the commander of the nearby naval officers’ high school.

Because the Patriarchate does not send a priest to Aya Yorgi, Güller has installed loudspeakers around the chapel. Every Sunday morning at 6 a.m., he tunes in to a religious radio station in Greece to listen to a service. “The liturgies read in Istanbul churches are not as beautiful as I remember them being as a child,” Güller said. “Many of the priests just don’t care anymore because the congregations are so small now.”

Poignantly, today it is not the Greeks facing expulsion from this multicultural stronghold, but the Alevi families. A priest in the 1970s invited the Alevis – originally migrant workers – to stay as thanks for helping him take care of the facilities. Though the acres they tend outside Aya Yorgi’s walls have belonged to monastery since 1884, when a wealthy Greek family donated them, disputed regulations dictate that land Greeks left behind must be ceded to local authorities. A Turkish foundation now lays claims to the property.

Until the 2000s, when real estate prices boomed on the Princes’ Islands, no one had sought ownership. But in 2010, a court awarded the property to the foundation.

Though Aya Yorgi itself is not threatened, Güller says its way of life is and vows to fight for the monastery’s Muslim friends.

“Aya Yorgi Garibi has always been a shelter for the destitute,” Güller, who has led an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over the evictions, enthused. “This is blatant injustice. … And with God’s help, everybody will be able to stay.”

Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction | Video on

Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction | Video on

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hundreds of Orthodox pilgrims gather for second service at Sümela Monastery

Nearly 1,000 Orthodox Christians gathered for a historic service at Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon early Monday, marking the second religious ceremony held at the monastery in the history of the Turkish Republic.

The Divine Liturgy, held on the occasion of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos according to the Orthodox liturgical calendar (also known as the Assumption of Mary), was officiated by İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I. Pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Georgia and other countries traveled to the monastery, which currently serves as a museum. Around 500 pilgrims were admitted to the monastery during the service, and the remaining participants watched the event from large screens set up outside Sümela.

Beginning the homily by saying “Our Muslim brothers,” Bartholomew thanked the Turkish government, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for allowing a second service at Sümela. Stating that Mary has a special place for both Muslims and Christians, he recalled a Quran verse which says: “And (remember) when the angels said: ‘O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah has chosen you, purified you (from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you above the women of the ‘Alamin' (mankind and jinns) (of her lifetime),” the patriarch called for peace and brotherhood in Turkey and in the world during his speech.

“The peace that we long for is vital, in particular during these days. We cannot rid ourselves of the burden of the tragic events in Norway yet. There is ongoing bloodshed in neighboring countries. Mothers are crying in our country. … Let's make a call from the high Sümela Mountain, from the presence of the feet of the Virgin Mary -- who is above all women -- to all Christians and Muslims for us, for humanity and for our future. This call can be a single word: peace, peace, peace. Mutual respect and love should be our only prayer,” the patriarch said.

Bartholomew also wished Muslim a happy Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. “May God accept your fasts,” he added.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Trouble with Turkey

Thomas Bruning, the general secretrary of the Netherlands Union of Journalists (NVJ), is rather pessimististic about press freedom in Turkey. In March alone, eight journalists were arrested in Turkey. Two prominent investigative journalists, namely Ahmed Sik and Nedim Sener, were among them. Some 60 Turkish journalists are in prison now, just because of what they wrote or on fake charges. "In view of the persecution and intimidation of journalists and the lack of transparency questions can be raised about the state of Turkish democracy," Bruning wrote in April (2011). "In a country that calls itself democratic and wants to join the European Union, free reporting is essential. Press freedom is democracy's greatest good."

Since Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan came to power in 2002 Turkey gradually moved away from its traditional secularism. Turkey's new rulers belong to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which initially presented itself as a moderate and pro-Western Muslim party – even though it was unprecedented for prime minister of Turkey to have a veiled wife. Emine Erdogan is a woman who proudly wears the Islamic headscarf calling on other women to follow her example. The AKP no longer is as moderate as it initially claimed to be. It was under Erdogan that Turkey opened a new page with Iran and its Muslim fundamentalist dictators who deny the Holocaust. Nationals from neighboring Muslim countries (notably Iran, Iraq and Syria) no longer need a visa to enter Turkey. Erdogan's new enemy now is Israel, pro-Iranian Hamas and Hezbollah, though, are seen as new allies. As the "Jerusalem Post" noted recently, "Erdogan's anti-Israel rhetoric cannot be seen in isolation from his oppressive policies at home and his pursuit of Islamist allies."


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Annihilation of Civilizations

By the time Mohammed died in 632 AD, Islam had used persuasion and jihad to subjugate Arabia. The annihilation of native Arabic culture is Sunna, the perfect example for all times and all Muslims. Said another way, the political theory of Islam is annihilation of Kafir civilization. How well did this political theory work out in history? Is this theory of annihilation at work today?

We have records of Mohammed’s last jihad against the Christians north of Arabia. After he died, Umar, the second caliph, took Mohammed’s jihad against the Christians and developed it into a war that conquered half of the Christian world. But this conquest was only the beginning of the political transformation. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian Kafirs became dhimmis. But Umar was not able to conquer Anatolia, the site known today as Turkey. For centuries, Islam attacked Anatolia and finally took Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, Turkey.

Take a look at the demographic history of the annihilation of the Greek Christian civilization:

This demographic growth chart of Islam has many things to teach us. The first is that the process of annihilation took centuries. Some people think that when Islam invaded, the Kafirs (non-Muslims) had the choice of conversion or death. No, absolutely not. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian dhimmis continued to have their “protected” status as People of the Book who lived under the Sharia law. The dhimmi paid heavy taxes, could not testify in court, hold a position of authority over Muslims and was humiliated by social rules. A dhimmi had to step aside for the Muslim, offer him his seat, could not carry a weapon and defer to a Muslim in every way. In all matters of society the dhimmi had to yield to the Muslim. Over the centuries, the degradation, lack of rights and the dhimmi tax caused the Christian to convert. It is the Sharia that destroys the dhimmis.

Notice where the curve is headed—100% Islam, just like Arabia. Today, Turkey is 99.7% Muslim. The Christian and Greek civilization of Anatolia is gone. It is annihilated.

What is tragic is that it seems that no one knows or cares. The Fethullah Gülen Movement (Turkish Muslim Brotherhood) of today pays for Christian ministers to go to Turkey and see an Islamic tolerant country where Christians live in beautiful harmony with Islam. And the ministers come back talking about what a wonderful society Turkey is and how well Christians are treated. After all, 0.3% of the Christians are still there in wonderful Turkey.

Today we see another approach to dealing with the Islam of annihilation. We ignore the history of annihilation and say that all we need to do is love Muslims and we will live in harmony, a wonderful multicultural civilization. A history of 1400 years without a single exception to the rule of annihilation and we will repeal it with a smile and a hug. All you need is love; love is all you need; all you need is love; love is all you need. Repeat that again and again, it will make a doctrine and history of annihilation go away. Actually, the way it works is that the history is never known. It is a cliché to say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. It is a cliché but it is true. We have our foot on the path to annihilation today because we refuse to know history.

What is the lesson? Islam, peaceful Islam, is about destruction of all Kafir civilization. Only if the Kafirs realize the goal of Islam is annihilation of their culture, can the destruction be stopped. Islam is at war with Kafirs, and Kafirs are trying to “nice” their way out of destruction. Islam is at war, we are at nice. Mohammed has a dream that is coming true while we sleep.
A contrast to the previous article, this would list the reason as tolerance is because the majority is winning.

Turkey keeps religious restrictions, hostilities in check

Turkey is one of the few countries where government-imposed religious restrictions and social hostilities involving religion have declined since mid-2008, while a striking 32 percent of the rest the world population faced an increase in both areas, according to the recently announced results of a three-year study, “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The findings of the study, which focused on religious restrictions in 198 countries over a three-year period, showed that government restrictions and social hostilities with regards to people's religious beliefs have increased in many countries, decreasing substantially in only a few, amounting to a mere 1 percent of the global population. The study listed Turkey among the countries with “high level” government restrictions and social hostilities, ranking 19th in government restrictions and 24th in social hostilities stemming from religion, at the same time revealing that the country has nevertheless improved its performance in both areas by a small margin.
In my opinion, this has to do more with the level of government control and the serious level at which crime is prosecuted than any other factor.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

1,700-year-old church unearthed in Turkey's Mugla

A 1,700-year-old church has been unearthed in Stratonikeia Ancient City in Yatagan town of Aegean province of Mugla.
Associate Prof. Bilal Sogut, head of Stratonikeia Ancient City excavation team, said Tuesday that significant progress was recorded in archaeologic excavations, researches, preservation and restoration works during the excavations that had been carried out since 2008.
"The church is an important one in the region. Some parts of the church were destroyed. We will restore the damaged parts and open it to public visit," he said.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Turkish model: A hard act to follow

PALE, bespectacled and polite, Bekir Berat Ozipek, a young professor at Istanbul’s Commerce University, is no street-fighter. But he was excited by the heady atmosphere he experienced on a recent trip to Egypt. He and two fellow Turkish scholars went to a conference at the University of Cairo where their ideas on civil-military relations were keenly gobbled up.

Then late one night, on the eve of a big protest, they went to Tahrir Square, the heart of Egypt’s uprising. They loved what they found: young people directing traffic, exuberant songs and slogans, a joker imitating ex-President Hosni Mubarak. Then they dived into a restaurant, where their chat about Egypt’s political system was joined by youngsters at the next table, as well as the waiter. Mr Ozipek thought he was living in the era of Voltaire.

A few days earlier another Turkish-Arab encounter took place. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, was winding up a visit to rebel-controlled Libya when he decided, to his minders’ alarm, to go to the central square of Benghazi, which like its Cairene counterpart is called Tahrir, or Liberation. As the crowd chanted “Erdogan, Turkey, Muslim”, he brought greetings from his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and told them: “We have a common future and a history.”

From North Africa to the Gulf, the region seems to be going through a Turkish moment. In years past Turkey’s spotty democracy was often cited to prove a negative: the Turkish case (along with Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s, also with reservations) showed that Islam did not pose an insuperable barrier to multiparty democracy. But nothing much flowed from that observation—until the Arab spring. Turkey is now being studied by Arabs as a unique phenomenon: a movement of moderate Islamists, the Justice and Development (AK) party, has overseen an economic boom, boosted the country’s standing and shown that the coming to power of pious people need not mean a dramatic rupture in ties with the West.

Whatever the flaws of the Turkish experiment, it is clearly true that Turkey under the AK party presents a more benign picture than many other versions—real and hypothetical—of Islamist rule. The country has gained influence in the Middle East by keeping cordial ties with Iran and standing up for the Palestinians. But there is no suggestion that it will leave NATO or cut diplomatic links, however strained, with Israel. Life has been made easier for pious Muslims in ways that secular Turks dislike; but so far, at least, Turkey is a long way from any Iranian-style enforcement of female dress, let alone a clerical class that has the final say in all big decisions.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Turkey gives go-ahead for second service at Sümela Monastery

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism has approved a request by the İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarchate for a second service at the Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon in August, the Doğan news agency reported on Friday.

The ministry reportedly told the patriarchate that a religious service can be held at Sümela in the second half of August and that the date and time would be determined by the Trabzon Governor's Office.

The monastery was abandoned after the foundation of the Turkish Republic and the subsequent population exchange between Turks and Greeks. It has since become a major tourist destination along Turkey's Black Sea coast.

The Turkish government last year allowed for an annual church service to be held at the monastery in a gradual loosening of restrictions on religious expression. The government accepted the patriarchate's request to hold last year's celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on Aug. 15 at Sümela Monastery. The service at the monastery was officiated by İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew. Pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Georgia and other countries traveled to the monastery, which currently serves as a museum.

Around 500 pilgrims were admitted to the monastery during the service, and the remaining participants watched the event on large screens set up outside Sümela. After the completion of the service, Bartholomew offered his thanks to the Ministry of Culture for its efforts to open the monastery for an annual service. He said the opening of the doors of the monastery for the religious ceremony was an act of courtesy on the part of the Turkish government.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Apostle St Philip's tomb found in Turkey

The tomb of Saint Philip, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, has been discovered in Turkey, the Anatolia news agency reported Wednesday.

The discovery was made in Hierapolis at the ancient excavation site in the southwestern province of Denizli, said Francesco D'Andria, the head of the excavation team.

People believed the tomb of Saint Philip was in the "hill of the dead" in Hierapolis, but the team found a new church ruins near the hill where the tomb actually lies.

"The discovery of the tomb of St Philip, who is a very important figure in Christianity, will make a tremendous impression in the world," D'Andria said.

Archaeologists had been working for years to look for the tomb of the Biblical figure.

Hierapolis is an ancient city and also a Unesco World Heritage Site. The city, famous for its historical hot springs, comprises a mixture of Pagan, Roman, Jewish and early Christian influences.

Saint Philip is believed to have died in Hierapolis around 80 A.D.

Legend says Saint Philip was crucified upside-down or martyred by beheading.

After his death, an octagonal tomb named "The Martryium" was erected for him.


Turkey Convicts Murderer Of Turkish Armenian Journalist

A court in Istanbul has sentenced the main suspect in the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to 22 years imprisonment.

Dink, the editor of a bilingual newspaper, was shot dead four years ago near his office in the city.

He had angered nationalists with articles referring to a Turkish ‘genocide’ of predominantly Christian Armenians in 1915. The Turkish government has denied any genocide took place, claiming the killings occurred amid widespread unrest.

Suspect Ogun Samast was 17 and unemployed at the time of Dink’s assassination.

Another court is hearing the cases against two other main suspects in the conspiracy and a handful of others accused of being linked to the plot, trial observers said.

Eyten Mahcupyan, who became editor of Agos, praised the court for being 'courageous enough to go with the evidence, and not go down an ideological path.


After years of “red tape,” Christians in Turkey finally open House Church

Protestants in the eastern Turkish province of Van have finally succeeded in opening a house church after seven years of struggling with local bureaucracies, yet they are still concerned by the hostile rhetoric coming from their local officials.

“They see us as persons who deceive people and who have a secret agenda,” elder Vahit Yıldız told Hurriyet Daily News. “It is not just the concept of a mission that causes prejudice, but also the concepts of ‘house prayer’ and ‘house church.’ The quintessential reason behind the fear is … the rhetoric employed by some of the (Turkish) leaders, which deeply saddens us, besides the prejudices formed by the public.”

Shortly after the church was opened, Mustafa Bilici — a Van deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party — lamented the occaision with Islamic-inspired anti-Semetic rhetoric.

“It is great heedlessness to open new churches in Muslim societies that are acting as stooges for Zionist activities,” he said.

Yıldız said his congregation, composed of Turks, Azeris, Afghans, Kurds, Iranians and others, only want to worship freely.

“Our doors are open to anyone who wants to get to know us,” he said.

The Protestant group had met in a private home for seven years while it appealed to local governments to obtain a license to be recognized as an official place of worship.

“Due to a lack of sufficient church buildings and (the authorities’ refusal) to grant a Religious Designation License, there are over 100 house groups and rented places of worship all across Turkey,” said Yıldız.

Yıldız pointed out that Christian clerics have been attacked and threatened in eastern Turkey, notably the murder of Andrea Santoro — a priest who was killed in Trabzon — as well as the Zirve Publishing House murders in Malatya.

“It is striking that (these) incidents have taken place in eastern provinces,” said Yildiz. “For that reason, we are being very careful … the way is being paved for similar attacks as long as the true perpetrators remain unexposed and judiciary penalties are not applied; no one will have the courage to commit such heinous attacks if the judiciary mechanism functions as it is supposed to.”

Yıldız said that unless these mechanisms are in place, Christians here will continue meeting in house churches due to continued threats and attacks.

“We are waging a great struggle in this vein. Our true purpose in this struggle is to adopt an open and transparent attitude toward both local governments, as well as toward our state.”


Thursday, July 21, 2011

US panel presses Turkey on religious rights

A US congressional committee on Wednesday urged Turkey to ensure religious freedom and return church properties to their "rightful owners" in a vote opposed by the Ankara government.

After a spirited debate, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a text that says Turkey should "end all forms of religious discrimination" and "return to their rightful owners" all churches and other Christian historic sites.

"Religious minorities are under grave threat in today's Turkey," said Representative Ed Royce, a Republican from California.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bigotry in Turkey and in Europe

Say you are Jewish or Sikh or Hindu or a Unitarian in Turkey. Can you be a full-fledged Turkish citizen?

Yes, in theory but not in practice. You’d have to subsume your religious, ethnic and other identities into being just “Turkish.”

This is not another variation of the old Quebec separatist refrain about who was a true Quebecer — only the pure laine. This goes to the core of how, even whether, Turkey can move beyond multi-party elections and evolve into a liberal democracy in which all citizens are truly equal.

Turkey is an important emerging power, the only Muslim member of NATO, a model for many in the Arab Awakening, and a bridge between the West and the East.

Its $1 trillion market-driven economy is booming, recording a growth rate second only to China’s. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has also succeeded in asserting civilian control over the shadowy “deep state,” the unelected trinity of army, judiciary and bureaucracy that for decades dominated elected governments, even toppling them.

Turkey’s next challenge is to end a century of discrimination against minorities, the largest being the separatist Kurds, nearly a fifth in a population of 75 million.

That would mean confronting the authoritarian political and social legacy of Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic in 1923. That was a time of great chaos amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The 1915-16 genocide of Armenians had eliminated up to a million people. Post-World War I, the Allies plotted to divide the Ottoman Turkish heartland — a plan Ataturk thwarted. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne sanctioned the deportation of 270,000 Christians to Greece and the acceptance of 130,000 Muslims from there.

The territorial integrity of the new republic was paramount. Non-Muslims — Armenians, Greek-Orthodox, Christian Arabs, Jews, etc. — were deemed fifth columnists. The new “Turk” was going to be a Turkish-speaking Muslim — a Sunni, at that, who subscribed to Hanafi theology (one of five schools of Islamic jurisprudence).

That formulation also excluded the Alevis (an offshoot of Shiite Islam), the Kurds (who were both Sunni and Alevis) and the Laz (an ancient people related to Georgians and living on the Black Sea).

All would be “Turkified.”

This was ironic. The new secular order that had abolished the sultanate and the caliphate, switched the day of rest from Friday to Sunday, banned the hijab, and changed the Turkish script from Arabic to Latin, was resorting to a religious identity to define citizenship.

Yet the new state also wanted to control Islam. It ordered the new Sunni Muslim citizen to subscribe to laiklik, secularism. But unlike the French laicite, which separated state and religion, the Turkish model empowered the state to dictate all religious observances, including how to pray and dress.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Free circumcision makes good politics in Turkey

As an exercise in good governance, the mass circumcision ceremony for some 100 boys from disadvantaged families in an old Istanbul square ticks a lot of boxes for Turkey's ruling AK Party and its voters.

"Circumcision is an important tradition in Islam," Mayor Ibrahim Kavuncu told Reuters with pride as he watched the boys and their families assemble in a square fronting Eyup Sultan Mosque to perform religious rites.

Draped in blue cloaks over cream satin shirts and wearing caps, the boys each carry a small staff. Shepherded into a circle around a janissary band, they practice waving the staves in time to the music.

A day later they will go to a private hospital for a fully paid circumcision.

In AK-controlled municipalities like Eyup, a gritty and pious neighborhood on the southern side of the Golden Horn inlet, connecting with people means giving them what they want.

For any good Muslim family that would include having their boys circumcised, observing religious rites and providing a small feast for relatives and neighbors.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Agents among Turkey's Christians not surprising as new informant discovered

Discovering agents among the small Christian community of Turkey is not a surprise, according to observers as there has been a report revealing yet another informant who was present within the Christian population of the southern province of Mersin.

A long-time Christian, Hakan Çevikoğlu, who died in a traffic accident in Spain last year, turned out to be a secret agent among the Christians of Mersin where they only number around 20. This revelation came out in the testimony of İ.Ç., known as Deniz Uygar who used to be a bishop and an informant. He is now a secret witness in the ongoing Malatya murder case of 2007 in which three people who sold Christian literature were brutally killed.

İ.Ç. said in his testimony in March this year that Çevikoğlu was a secret agent of the intelligence service working for noncommissioned officer Abdullah Atılgan, former chief of the unit of the extreme right actions in relation to the Mersin Gendarmerie Intelligence, according to a report in the Radikal daily on Friday. When the court asked Atılgan about this claim, he said that Çevikoğlu was introduced to him by İ.Ç. and that Atılgan used Çevikoğlu as a registered informant. But he said that he severed his relations with Çevikoğlu because he heard that Çevikoğlu was sharing some of the information that he had with others.

Soner Tufan, the press and public relations officer for the Association of Protestant Churches based in the Aegean province of İzmir, told Today's Zaman that revelations about Çevikoğlu are unexpected, but the developments are not surprising at all.

“Çevikoğlu and his family have been devout Christians for a long time. His daughter had a Christian marriage. His wife is a Christian, and the family attends church. Even Çevikoğlu's family was unaware of his activities,” Tufan said.

However, he added that the development is not surprising.

“There have been so many revelations about informants among Christians; we don't know whom to trust anymore. Our feeling is that if there are so many agents in such a small community like the one in Mersin, then how many more are there?” he asked in reference to three other agents previously discovered among Mersin's Christians.