Friday, November 29, 2013

Forced Islamisation of Armenians raises questions about today's Turkey

Turks are getting ready for a hot election in March when they will cast their ballot to elect a new parliament and, for the first time, a new president. Almost certainly, Sunni ethics will certainly inform the debate. Not much coverage has gone to a conference held in early November on the forced islamisation of Armenians before and after the 1915 genocide.

Organised by Istanbul's Boğaziçi University and the Hrant Dink Foundation, which is named after Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, the editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos. He was assassinated in 2007 by Turkish nationalists with the tolerance of elements within the Turkish state.

Although some 600 people from around the world attended the conference, the Turkish media failed to give the event the attention it deserved.

In their presentations, various speakers noted that forced Islamisation was not visited only on individual children and women survivors but on entire families forced to convert in order to survive in the new Turkey born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

The founding of the new Turkish Republic was premised on the policies of Islamisation and genocide pursued by the Young Turks and the Committee of Union and Progress. This occurred after Armenian members of the Young Turks and the Committee split from ethnic Turks in 1913.

Based on various reports, the goal of the Committee of Union and Progress in 1915 was to reduce the Armenian population (5 to 10 per cent of the empire's population) where it had its strongest and oldest roots - the central, southern and eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire - since its aim was to establish a new Turkey that would be Sunni Muslim. Even Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkey's so-called secular republic, appealed to Muslim solidarity to consolidate his power. In short, a real Turk was a Muslim Turk.

Not surprisingly, after the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians known as Karamanlis were uprooted from Anatolia and sent to Greece.

Turkish historian Taner Akçam, who teaches at Clark University in the United States, is one of the foremost specialist on the Armenian Genocide. In his address, he spoke of 200,000 Islamised Armenians, noting that the assets of the genocide victims went to the Turks.

Overall, historians focused on a very important issue. Because of forced islamisation, millions of Turks have ties to the Armenian and/or Christian communities. Some call them 'crypto-Armenians' or 'crypto-Christians;.

Tulsa physician with roots in Turkey sells Christian movies

Tulsa physician Enis Sakirgil opened a store last month in south Tulsa that sells Christian and family movies on Blu-ray and DVD. 

"Jesus was always talking in parables that would bring images into people's minds. Movies are the parables of today," he said. 

His store and the online video sales business that supports it are the most recent expressions of a family faith that extends back for centuries. 

Sakirgil was born and raised in Antioch, Turkey, one of the centers of the early church, and a city where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. 

He comes from an Eastern Orthodox family in a land where Christianity once flourished but which now is 99 percent Muslim. 

Sakirgil said he became a born-again Christian when he was a medical student attending a church founded by American missionaries in Istanbul. 

He was attracted to the church because the services were in Turkish, his native tongue, and not in Arabic, like the church in which he was raised. 

He became a worship leader in the church and founded the first-ever Christian rock band in Turkey, he said. 

During his medical residency in Turkey, he heard about In His Image, a Christian family-practice residency program in Tulsa. He could not get the idea of attending the residency program out of his mind, he said.
Fish Flix

Turkey drops a screen over Christianity

Many of Turkey’s historic monuments have followed the same path through the centuries: Byzantine church to Ottoman mosque to secular museum. This July, the 13th-century Hagia Sophia church in the eastern city of Trabzon added a new phase: return to mosque.
While the conversion of this Hagia Sophia – not the more famous structure by the same name in Istanbul – to a house of Muslim worship reflects the increasingly religious approach of Turkey's government, the impact on the tourism industry has been buffered by an uptick in foreign visitors from the Middle East, who are largely disinterested in the traditional tourist landmarks.  
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Hüseyin Buyuk, a local working for the Historic Hagia Sophia Association, ushered visitors through the divided entrance. Local Muslim worshipers went to the right, removing their shoes before stepping onto the red carpet inside, where large white screens shield Christian icons from their eyes, while non-Muslim tourists went to the left, following an uncarpeted passageway behind the screens to gaze upon bright frescoes depicting Christ. 
From 1964 until December 2012, Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia functioned as a museum. But after a court ruling that, in the legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, the building was rightfully a mosque, the Turkish Ministry of Culture was evicted. On July 5, the late-Byzantine church reopened as a mosque in time for the first Friday prayer of Ramadan.
“It has always been a house of worship,” Mr. Buyuk says, supporting the court ruling. “We already have a cultural museum.” 
The Hagia Sophia was the second such museum to be converted recently – Iznik’s Hagia Sophia was reopened as a mosque in July 2012 – and it may not be the last. The conservative opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) introduced a bill Nov. 8 to resume Muslim prayer in Istanbul’s famed 4th-century basilica, Hagia Sophia, first converted to a museum in 1935.
Dr. Şükrü Yarcan, a tourism specialist at Nisantasi University, says the restoration of Muslim prayer in historical sites like Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia is unlikely to stop non-Muslim tourists from visiting them, but it contributes to foreign impressions that the country is growing more religious, particularly in more distant regions like North America and East Asia. 
“They might think that Turkey is going to be an Islamic country and they might refrain from coming,” said Yarcan. “They might have an image of Turkey as a negative one.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Turkish pastor arrested on human trafficking accusations

A Turkish Protestant pastor arrested by police in the Black Sea province of Samsun this week is accused of involvement in prostitution and the human trafficking of refugees.

Pastor Orhan Picaklar of the Samsun Agape Church was summoned to local police headquarters for questioning on Monday afternoon (November 11).
The 42-year-old pastor was detained until Wednesday evening in a police investigation led by the Morals Bureau of the Public Order Division. The criminal case was reportedly based on a telephoned complaint from an unidentified person.
“It is obviously a deliberate plot,” a spokesperson from the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey told World Watch Monitor, saying that Picaklar had been harassed for years by local media and city authorities who openly opposed the church’s existence.
While in detention with seven other individuals, Picaklar learned they were all being named as suspects in the same “human trafficking operation”.
“I hadn’t ever seen any of them, and none of them knew me either!” Picaklar told World Watch Monitor.
But the Turkish press was quick to trumpet the pastor’s arrest for the next two days, before Picaklar was finally brought to testify before the prosecutor on Wednesday afternoon.
A former Muslim who converted to Christianity 21 years ago, Picaklar has pastored the Samsun Agape Church since 2003. The congregation was granted formal “association” status in 2005, although like other new Christian congregations in Turkey, it is still prohibited by law from official government recognition as a church.