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.