Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Open Air Christmas Celebration!

On Saturday, December 22nd, Protestant Christians gathered for their first ever Christmas celebration in a public square. They began by marching together down a walking street before gathering before a stage where a choir sang Christmas carols. A local pastor, Levent Kinran gave a short message about Christmas and the Chairman of the Board at Holy Scripture Information Association, Ercument Tarkan, led the group in prayer.  Several hundred Christians attended and their were no problems from the crowd that gathered.  Here is a video of the event:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Have divine question? Ask an English-speaking imam in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Fatih Municipality and Religious Affairs Office have begun a new project to teach imams (Islamic clergymen) English. The project mainly aims to enable imams to communicate with tourists visiting mosques. 

Yesterday, a test measuring English skills was given to the imams. After a written exam, the first English lesson was held. The imams had the most difficulty with the oral exam. Beyazıt Mosque’s muezzin (caller of daily prayers for Muslims), Mahir Sarıkaya, said they really needed such training. “One wants to communicate with the tourists that come around,” he said. 

Istanbul Mufti Rahmi Yaran, who also contributed to the project, called imams to use their body language along with spoken language. “In order to express yourselves, your religion and country, you need both body language and spoken language. You should place emphasis on both of them,” Yaran said, addressing the imams. 

Also, Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir said they aimed to please tourists and provide them first-hand information with the project. Demir said learning a new language was a very challenging process. “It is like cycling up a hill on a bike. If you stop, you will fall,” he said. 

Demir also said teaching English to imams would enable them to give religious sermons in English. “One of our aims is to enable [imams] to recite religious sermons in English at mosques, especially at the ones such as Sultanahmet and Yeni Camii, which attract many tourists. English sermons are recited after the ones in native languages in all over the world. I think giving English sermons in Fatih is necessary.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finally, Istanbul gives Syriac Christians a place to build: a cemetery

Three years after a Syrian Orthodox foundation applied to build a church in Istanbul, the Greater Istanbul Municipality has granted them a large plot of land and a building permit.
Banner headlines in the Turkish media praised the early-December decision as “a first in the history of the Republic,” declaring that never before had Turkey allowed a non-Muslim minority to build an official new house of worship.

Still, Syriac Christians were far from pleased.

For one thing, the land they were “granted” by the municipality is, in fact, a Latin Catholic cemetery.

“We don’t want a Syriac church on top of a cemetery!” the website stated. “This is a big scandal.”

In fact, the graveyard had been donated back in 1868 to the Italian Catholic Church in what is now Istanbul’s Yesilkoy district. It was then officially registered as Catholic property in 1936, although later confiscated in 1951 by the city.

The Council of Europe’s 2011 progress report noted that Turkey was not fully implementing Law No. 3998, which states that cemeteries belonging to minority communities can no longer be taken over by local municipalities.

According to lawyer Nail Karakas, the Latin Catholic foundation had applied to the city last summer, in accordance with the government’s August 2011 pledge to restore expropriated minority properties, to regain possession of their property and resume Christian burials in the graveyard.

So Syriac leaders are insisting that the cemetery land newly designated for their church be returned instead to its rightful owners. “It is clear that (the authorities) want to cause conflict between the minority communities,” commented Syriac layman Sabo Boyaci.

Boyaci also faulted the government for trying to exploit the Syriac community politically. “I don’t believe the government’s sincerity. They delivered this land to us in order to silence us on the matter of Mor Gabriel Monastery. The government simply aims to make a good impression on the European and Turkish public,” he told Hurriyet Daily News.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Religion questions now part of university entrance exam in Turkey

Turkish PM Erdogan had a remark this year saying that he desires a pious nation. His AKP government works tirelessly to fulfill his wish. Lastly questions pertaining to religion will be part of the university entrance exam starting in 2013.

Mayan apocalypse: Turkish village becomes latest doomsday hotspot

A Turkish village has become the latest apocalypse hotspot, with believers of the Mayan calendar prediction that the world will end on December 21 flooding into the area.

Some New Age spiritualists are convinced of a December 21 "doomsday" foretold by Mayan hieroglyphs – at least according to some interpretations.

Sirince, a village of around 600 inhabitants near the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, has a positive energy according to the doomsday cultists, who say that it is close to an area where Christians believe the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven.

The Mayan prophecy has sparked a tourism boom in the village, which is now expected to host more than 60,000 visitors according to local media.

"It is the first time we witness such an interest during the winter season," said Ilkan Gulgun, one of the hotel owners in Sirince, quoted by the media.

He said the tourists at his hotel believed that the positive energy of Sirince would save them from an apocalyptical catastrophe.

Special Warfare and Christians

There are some real life stories in Turkey that can only be narrated by masterful directors without giving you the feeling that the movie is unrealistically exaggerating them. These are stories unique to Turkey: When you tell them exactly as they are, you may create the feeling of sensation and surrealism for the people who listen to you.

They are so real, but the sense of realism can only be given by a creative artist. Let me explain to you what I mean by telling you a story. Imagine you watch this film about Turkey shot by a Turkish director: A Turkish sergeant major penetrates into the Christian community as a result of orders he received from his superiors. In a short while he is accepted by the Christian community as a member, he starts doing missionary activities across the country, distributing thousands and thousands of Bibles on the streets in shops and other places. He invited Turks to become Christians.

Meanwhile, he becomes one of the prominent figures in the community he penetrated; he even becomes a pastor and establishes his own church. However, his commanders then send him a second order saying that he has completed the first phase of his mission, and that he now needs to be a Muslim once again. But this of course needs to be done publicly.

He starts to appear on one TV channel after another, explaining that he has become enlightened, that he saw the “ugly” face of Christians and therefore became a Muslim once again. Following his dramatic appearances on TV channels, quite an intense psychological lynch campaign starts all over Turkey. And this lynch campaign is followed by physical attacks and murders.

If you watch all these in a movie on screen I am sure you would tell yourself the film exaggerated everything to a great extent. However, all these unbelievable things happened in Turkey starting from 2005 onwards.

İlker Çınar, one of the key witnesses in the Malatya massacre case, which concerned the brutal and tragic murder of three missionaries in 2007 in Malatya, revealed all this and explained in great detail how he manipulated Turkish public opinion in the past. The authenticity of his statement will be established at the end of a court trial, of course. However, we already know beyond a reasonable doubt that some of the key elements in his narrative are indisputably true. First of all, these dramatic TV appearances are something we all saw with our own eyes. And again we saw the documents in the court files showing that he was receiving salaries from the General Staff both during his missionary activities and while declaring on TV channels that he had once again become a Muslim.

Çınar said that all the orders he received reached him in sealed envelopes or by telephone. He explained extremely interesting details in his statements to the prosecutors and the court. He said that after receiving an order to appear on a TV channel, he would then receive an invitation from the said TV channel. Apparently, the commanders who give him orders for public appearances had a lot of friends in the media, at universities and in many different places. Their network was so efficient that they were able to arrange TV programs for a sergeant to appear on most popular TV channels during primetime.

I remembered all these stories once again while reading a report from the parliamentary commission investigating military coups. The report turns our attention to the Special Warfare Department, which was associated with many past atrocities before, starting with the Sept. 6-7 pogroms that targeted non-Muslims in İstanbul in 1955.

The report tells us that this department, which was established in the 1950s against the so-called Soviet invasion (as happened in many NATO countries in those years), was involved in many atrocities against civilians during this whole period of time.

One of the interesting details in this report says that the estimated numbers of civilians connected to this center is over 100,000. These people are from all walks of life, from merchants to peasants, from doctors to journalists; they are called “white forces.” This is a hidden army designed to wage civil resistance to any invasion, but apparently all these civil elements were somehow involved in the dirty work of this department.

Quite interestingly, Çınar also mentioned these so-called white forces in his statement in connection with psychological warfare against Christians. When I put all these stories and information side by side, new questions marks come to mind. Might these people who invited Çınar to speak on TV and who organized conferences for him at respected universities in Turkey and arranged all other things be somehow a part of these white forces? There are so many other questions to be asked, and I hope they will be able to answer some of them in the near future.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Turkey: Becoming a Facial Hair Hub

News on the lighter side:

Health tourism can be a hairy business anywhere, but for Turkey this is literally the case. Hair transplants have been a cornerstone of the country’s billion-dollar-plus medical-tourism market for more than a decade. But recently, a growing number of medical tourists, especially Middle Eastern men, have been traveling to Turkey specifically for facial hair implants.

“Both in Turkey and in Arab countries, facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties,” commented Dr. Selahattin Tulunay, a transplant surgeon who has a private practice in Istanbul. He estimates that up to a quarter of his monthly hair-transplant patients are Arab men from the Middle East interested in more facial hair.
“Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don’t sport facial hair,” Tulunay added.
Hair-transplant surgeon Dr. Ali Mezdegi has noticed the same trend. About 75 percent of his customers are Arabs, mostly from the Persian-Gulf countries, and many tell him they want transplants before contemplating marriage. “Thick hair is a status symbol, and a sign of strength and virility,” Dr. Medzegi explained. “Some patients want to look younger, some more manly -- both important factors in the Middle East if one looks for a new wife.”
But why is Turkey emerging as the go-to place for mustache-and-beard work?
“This trend was made possible because of our government’s excellent relationship with many Arab countries,” suggested Irfan Atik, the general manager of an Istanbul tourism agency that specializes in hair-transplant tour packages. Arabs now constitute a major share of Turkey’s tourism sector, with more than 4 million tourists from Arab countries out of a total of 30 million visitors in 2011.
Atik estimated that at least 50 Arab tourists arrive in Istanbul each day for a facial-hair transplant. Most of his own customers are from the United Arab Emirates, but some also arrive from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq. “Many of my visitors tell me how much they love [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan,” Atik said. But, he continued, so far none have asked for the so-called “almond,” the nickname for the closely cropped mustache sported by the prime minister and typically associated with supporters of his pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Turkey, the EU and Treatment of Turkish Christians

Turkey was once a Christian country.
However, from the Fall of Constantinople until now, Christians have been subjected to severe discrimination and violence. This violence reached its peak with the Armenian Genocide early in the 20th Century.
I have seen the tiny corners of society into which Christians are pushed in Turkey. I stood at the spot where the Patriarch was hung by a mob in the early 20th Century. Christians can not build churches there, and there are severe restrictions on ordination of new priests.
Turkey is a beautiful country with many wonderful people. Their hospitality is incredible. I believe that Turkey can become a great nation. But it must move past its history of discrimination and violence against Christians to do this.
An important German politician recently took the same position regarding Turkey’s admission into the European Union. Volker Kauder, chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, says that Turkey must allow Christians to build churches in Turkey before it can be admitted to the EU.
Frankly, I think that is a bare minimum. Christians in Turkey should have the same rights as all other citizens. They should be free to worship, and to witness for their faith publicly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Syriacs to build new church in Istanbul

Turkey’s Syriac community is granted land in Istanbul on which to construct its first official church in the city, but the move has become the subject of controversy after Catholics said the parcel in question legally belongs to them. Father Simonelli says they will take the issue to the court.

Turkish High Council Removes Third Prosecutor from Christian Murder Trials

A prosecutor in the case for the 19 suspects accused of inciting brutal 2007 murders of three Christians in Matalya, Turkey, has been removed from High Council duty, stalling the country's long-running trials—again.
Prosecutor Hikmet Usta was probing links between the Malatya murders of three Christians and the earlier assassination of a Christian newspaper editor when he was abruptly transferred from his position last week and re-assigned prosecution duties in an Istanbul court. Usta had been preparing objections to the verdict of the Turkish Supreme Court that "no illegal group" had been behind the January 2007 murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
"There was an illegal group, and there is evidence," Usta protested to the Turkish media.
As a member of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, Usta was investigating the connections between Dink's murder and the Malatya massacre, in which two Turkish Christians and a German citizen were tortured and stabbed to death in the Zirve Christian publishing house office on April 18, 2007.
"This cannot be called a 'routine' procedure, to remove a prosecutor wanting to intensify his appeals investigation," Erdal Dogan, a plaintiff lawyer for Zirve, told Taraf newspaper on Dec. 2.
But this is not the first time prosecutors trying to uncover the real perpetrators behind the Dink and Zirve murders have been removed from their duties, notes Dogan.
In September, the Turkish Justice Ministry removed two prosecutors and two judges who had been trying the Malatya case just two days before a week of hearings on the case was to begin. The sudden changes left only the presiding judge familiar with the massive files of evidence on the murders.
The 19 suspects accused in the Zirve murders went on trial before Matalya's Third Criminal Court in early September, following the court's acceptance of a third indictment in the case in June, when allegations against primarily military officials finally went public."This indictment provides the first solid evidence that our military authorities officially assigned the named suspects to monitor and attack the Christians in Malatya," Umut Sahin from the legal committee of the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches told Open Doors News in September.
The 761-page indictment alleges that the attack by five young murderers who stabbed, tortured, and slit the throats of three Christians had been masterminded by a retired general in Turkey's 1st Army Corps and ultranationalist military officials in the Malatya gendarmerie. The gendarmerie is a law-enforcement arm of the military which has jurisdiction outside of Turkey's cities and towns.
According to the indictment, the Zirve murders were part of the so-called Cage Action Plan hatched by military officials trying to undermine the ruling Justice and Peace Party government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan through assassinations, threats, and acts of terror against Turkey's non-Muslim minorities.
But just two days before the Sept. 3 hearings began, Turkish authorities shocked the lawyers for the victims by abruptly replacing the two prosecutors, and two of the three judges, in the case, leaving only presiding judge Hayrettin Kisa familiar with the evidence in the case.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Merkel deputy criticizes Turkey over religious freedoms

A leading ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Turkey on Wednesday to show it was serious about defending religious freedoms if it wanted to join the EU, saying it should let Christians build churches without restrictions.
Volker Kauder, leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, told a party congress he expected a "clear signal" on the issue from the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan before membership talks could continue.
"A country that wants to be part of Europe must accept the basic principle of religious freedom," he said.
"That means, that we expect Christians in Turkey to be able to build churches without any restrictions, just as Muslims build mosques here in Germany," he said.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Turkey fines TV channel for airing blasphemous episode of 'The Simpsons'

Turkey's broadcasting regulator is fining a television channel for insulting religious values after it aired an episode of "The Simpsons" which shows God taking orders from the devil.

Radio and television watchdog RTUK said it was fining private broadcaster CNBC-e 52,951 lira ($30,000) over the episode of the hit U.S. animated TV series, whose scenes include the devil asking God to make him a coffee.

"The board has decided to fine the channel over these matters," an RTUK spokeswoman said but declined further comment, saying full details would probably be announced next week.

CNBC-e said it would comment once the fine was officially announced.

Turkey is a secular republic but most of its 75 million people are Muslim. Religious conservatives and secular opponents vie for public influence and critics of the government say it is trying to impose Islamic values by stealth.

Elected a decade ago with the strongest majority seen in years, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have overseen a period of unprecedented prosperity in Turkey. But concerns are growing about authoritarianism.

Erdogan last week tore into a chart-topping soap opera about the Ottoman Empire's longest-reigning Sultan and the broadcasting regulator has warned the show's makers about insulting a historical figure.

"The Simpsons" first aired in 1989 and is the longest-running U.S. sitcom. It is broadcast in more than 100 countries and CNBC-e has been airing it in Turkey for almost a decade.

"I wonder what the script writers will do when they hear that the jokes on their show are taken seriously and trigger fines in a country called Turkey," wrote Mehmet Yilmaz, a columnist for the Hurriyet newspaper.

"Maybe they will add an almond-moustached RTUK expert to the series," he said, evoking a popular Turkish stereotype of a pious government supporter.

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