Friday, December 30, 2005

Christmas Ceremony at "the Garden of Religions"

The Turkish government built a Garden of Religions with a church, a mosque and a synagogue in Antalya. It's good to see it getting put to good use:

"The Christmas ceremony was directed by father James Bultema.

In the ceremony held at the church of
''the Garden of Religions,''
Bultema read prayers from the Holy Bible. The ceremony was attended by local Christians and foreign tourists.

Hymns were sung at the ceremony."

Christmas Ceremony Held At The Garden Of Religions

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas in Turkey

"I began my first Christmas season in Turkey - a nation which is officially secular but 99% Muslim - I feared that any spirit of the holiday would end at my apartment door. But I was surprised to find a surprising number of signs of Christmas - or at least in Turkey's capital city of Ankara.

The store windows are full of trees and Santas, and signs that say, "Merry Christmas." (In fact, banners and signs saying "Season's Greetings" or Happy Holidays" were few and far between. Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson, take note: The war on Christmas is in full retreat on this far-off front.) There are no explicitly Christian symbols like mangers or angels, of course - but just about everything short of those. And Turks take a peculiar pride in Saint Nicholas' origins in the village of Patara in southern Turkey.

But perhaps more significantly, acknowledging, if not celebrating, Christmas seemed like a big deal to the Turks themselves. Perhaps this is a sign of Turks' efforts to emulate Europe as they aspire to membership in the European Union. Every Turk I know took steps to wish me a "Happy Christmas." Even a taxicab driver had heard the phrase from a friend, written it down on a note card, and read off a "Meh-Rek-reesmuss" as I departed. It's a small gesture, but appreciated - and a sign that an intolerance for other faiths does not mark every corner of the Islamic world."
Christmas in Turkey - December 29, 2005 - The New York Sun - NY Newspaper

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Antioch’s “small, extraordinary Christmas miracles”

"Every year, they tell us that if we – like the shepherds and the magi – are capable of placing all our vanity, presumption, pride and obstinacy at the foot of the manger, then we too, like Mary, will be able to say: ‘The Lord has looked down on my lowliness: my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour’. It will be Christmas for us too, the real Christmas that fills the heart with Peace and Light."

"Christmas, then, is the feast of the Lowliness of God, a feast in which the small, extraordinary miracles of everyday life are celebrated.

If this is really the case, I am sure, then, that it was Christmas for Leyla, a poor Muslim widow who, with generosity, care and affection, prepared handmade biscuits in “industrial quantities” for her neighbours’ 12 children – even poorer than herself – so that they could celebrate the birth of Jesus with joy.

And it was Christmas for the 10 Christian children who gathered to pray around Baby Jesus in a crib they made from coloured paper throughout Advent. As they prayed, their peers played ball in the neighbourhood alleys, just like any other day, unaware of the great event unfolding.

And then there was the group of youth and elderly people, children, men and women, Christians and Muslims who defied the rain and cold of the night to celebrate Christmas Mass in ‘St Peter’s Grotto’, gathered around the bishop of Anatolia, Mgr Padovese. I certainly believe they relived the anticipation felt by the shepherds, that they too experienced the need for the goodwill and peace of God – even if perhaps they did not have a pre-tailored, precise idea of what to expect. Did the Light of Love enter their open hearts?"

"And who knows how many other Christmases – here in Antioch, in this corner of Turkey, and in the whole world – passed unnoticed by man, but certainly seen by God…

Small gestures, perhaps miracles which will not change the course of history, but surely they will leave their mark in the hearts of those who know how to guard them and pass them on."
>>> <<< Antioch’s “small, extraordinary Christmas miracles”

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Property sale to foreign nationals passed by commission

"Parliament's Justice Commission has passed a bill on the sale of property to foreigners that is soon expected to be discussed in the General Assembly.

There were serious arguments during the passage of the bill last Tuesday, with Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy from Malatya Muharrem Kılıç arguing that a new clause was being introduced to alleviate concerns over the sale of property near military zones but saying that it was far from satisfactory."

How is this relevant? Read the following:

"Foundations, associations, cooperatives, groups and religious communities will not be able to purchase property. If officials prove that the law was not adhered to or that the land purchased is not being used for the specified purpose, the Finance Ministry will set a deadline for the owners to sell it and if not will make the sale itself and return the proceeds to the owner."
Turkish Daily News - Property sale to foreign nationals passed by commission

Sezer: We Share The Excitement And Happiness Of Our Christian Citizens For Christmas

"Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer has issued a Christmas message to Christians in Turkey today.

Sezer said that he joins in the celebration of Christians over Christmas. ''We share the excitement and happiness of our Christian citizens for Christmas. Christmas reminds our multi-religious society about the historical ties that exist between all of us with warm feelings. Christmas carries new hopes of love, peace and brotherhood,'' stated President Sezer."
Sezer: We Share The Excitement And Happiness Of Our Christian Citizens For Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Is playing the lottery a sin?

A Muslim columnist talks about the lottery:

"The top story of daily Vakit was very interesting. According to Muslim theologians, playing the lottery is a sin. If that’s a fact, it's obvious that Turks don’t care what some theologians say."

"Certain individuals who are said to be experts on Islam are arguing that playing the lottery is a sin. They say that buying a lottery ticket can be considered gambling and that that is why it is a sin for Muslims.

I don't believe playing the lottery is gambling. It is a game played to have a good time.

What made me think about this was something else. If experts think like this and we continue to buy lottery tickets, doesn't this mean their influence over the nation has diminished to zero?

Don't you see the rush to buy lottery tickets? The number of people buying the tickets increases steadily every year.

What will happen now?

Will we start saying, 'We're losing our religion' or will we say, 'People no longer listen to religious experts on what they do.'

It's up to you."
Turkish Daily News - Is playing the lottery a sin?

Turkey, Christmas in St Peter’s grotto

"A community of people – Catholic, Orthodox, Muslims, believers and non believers – come together on Christmas Eve to invoke the Light which enlightens all men."

"A winding passage in rock on the slope of Mount Stauris. It is blackened by the smoke of candles lit during the festive season, in glaring contrast with the tattered white of the plasterwork, once the background of now barely visible frescoes, which used to cover the entire wall. On the floor are confusing traces of mosaics, indecipherable remains of Byzantine figures.

This is the grotto of St Peter in Antioch, described as the oldest church in the world.

On the night of 24 December, the small Christian community of the city will gather to celebrate Christmas here, in this grotto simply decorated for the occasion: a few carpets, an icon of Mary tenderly embracing her baby, and a candle here and there and some flowers."
>>> <<< Turkey, Christmas in St Peter’s grotto

Turkey Has No Plans to Amend Freedom of Expression Law

"Turkey’s justice minister said yesterday that the government has no immediate plans to amend the freedom of expression-curbing law that was used to charge renowned writer Orhan Pamuk, a case that has soured relations with the European Union. The EU, which is pressing the country to do more to protect freedom of expression, has criticized the law which makes insulting Turkey, “Turkishness” and state institutions a crime.

“If we’re going to make changes to the laws according to your or my understanding then there will be no stability left in the judiciary,” Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said. “It would also damage the unity of the laws.”
Turkey Has No Plans to Amend Freedom of Expression Law

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Turkish writer goes on trial for insulting nation

"The trial of Turkey's most celebrated author on charges of insulting the nation got off to a chaotic start in Istanbul Friday as militant nationalists heaped abuse on him inside and outside the court.

As he entered the building Orhan Pamuk was met by about 100 banner-bearing nationalists accusing him of being the "son of a (Christian) missionary" and an intellectual who had "sold out" to the Christian West."

"Inside the courtroom, packed to the rafters by about 100 people, prosecution lawyers repeatedly attacked those responsible for "provocations" among the public.

"The people present here are those who say it is the Turkish legal system which is currently on trial," said one of them pointing at the European delegation.

"I protest in the name of all the jurists of Turkey against their presence."
Japan Today - News - Turkish writer goes on trial for insulting nation - Japan's Leading International News Network

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas in Europe, Where's Santa?

Interested in how the different European countries celebrate Christmas? Here's a good list with just the basics:

The majority of the population in Turkey is Moslem but we are a secular country and even if we do not directly celebrate Christmas, we share this custom with our Greek Orthodox and Armenian neighbours who are a minority, especially in big cities. We have Christmas trees and exchange gifts for the new year. Islam as a religion recognizes all prophets of the monotheist religions. Therefore we celebrate the New Year and we recognize Jesus as one of our prophets. The birth place of St. Nicholas is in Turkey, near Antalya (Myra-Demre)."
SourceWire | Press Releases - Christmas in Europe, Where's Santa?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Turkey's religious communities need fundamental reform of their status

"Turkey's Law on Foundations plays a central role in the country's religious freedom situation, as it directly affects religious communities' ownership of property. Proposed amendments to the Law – which includes provisions governing "community foundations" for non-Muslim religious/ethnic communities – are facing a tortuous process. It is not even clear if the Ankara parliament will ever approve them."

"The existing Foundations Law is limited as it covers only some non-Muslim minority communities. The Roman Catholic Church, Protestant Churches (whether historical Churches or free Evangelical congregations), Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is and other non-Muslim groups have no such foundations – and are unlikely to be allowed to have any."

In December 2000 the Altintepe Protestant Church in Istanbul gained foundation status, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court. However this is not to the liking of the Directorate-General for Foundations, which cannot overturn a Supreme Court decision to grant foundation status, but which has since blocked foundation applications from at least two other Protestant churches."

"The government has been reluctant to resolve existing problems caused by the regulations governing community foundations, as it fears it might have to return all the properties seized from Christian and Jewish community foundations since the 1930s."

"Because religious communities in themselves cannot get legal status (in theory the Law on Associations does allow it, though courts are unlikely to accept this in practice), they cannot own any property. Someone who does not exist cannot own property. As long as religious communities like the Alevi Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Baha'is and Jehovah's Witnesses have no legal status they cannot organise themselves administratively (they cannot even run bank accounts), and this even impacts on them spiritually. Moreover, the state can interfere at any time."
Forum 18 Search/Archive

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Moves to Limit Alcohol Use Intensify Debate in Turkey

Turkish Prohibition:

"Efforts by this nation's Islam-rooted government to broaden restrictions on the sale of alcohol have sparked accusations among secular lawmakers that it is seeking to strengthen the role of religion in daily life.

The debate began this year when municipalities run by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, set in motion plans to move businesses that serve alcohol to "red" zones outside city centers."

"A pious Muslim who does not drink, Erdogan recently blamed drunk driving for 80% of Turkey's traffic accidents. Police statistics quoted in the Turkish media set the figure at less than 1%.

Since taking office three years ago, the Erdogan regime has steadily raised taxes on alcohol. Industry sources say taxes on beer have risen a whopping 450%, more than three times the average of the countries in the European Union, the steadfastly secular alliance that Turkey hopes to join. EU officials have been concerned about Turkey's suitability for membership because of the ruling party's religious background.

Suspicions that the increases were meant to discourage drinking deepened this year, when Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan told a Turkish newspaper: "We can hardly tell them not to drink, so we discourage citizens by raising taxes."

""Their claims that that is a health and safety issue are completely false," he added during a telephone interview. "If they were serious, they would start with a campaign against smoking, which is a far greater health hazard in Turkey."

Under the secular system introduced by the country's founder, Kemal Ataturk, in 1923, Turkey has evolved into one of the most Westernized nations in the Islamic world. In keeping with the legacy of Ataturk, who downed liberal amounts of raki, the aniseed-flavored national drink, freedom to drink alcohol is embedded in the Turkish vision of a modern society.

Although alcohol is shunned in the conservative rural heartland, Erdogan has said the state has no plans for an outright ban. He has accused the opposition of deliberately misrepresenting the government's aims."
Moves to Limit Alcohol Use Intensify Debate in Turkey - Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Turkish Daily News - Ozturk: Every new mosque harms Islam

"People's Ascent Party (HYP) leader and famous theologian Yaşar Nuri Öztürk said on Tuesday that every new mosque built did not help Islam but instead actually harmed it."

"Religion was being used by outside forces to harm Turkey, he said, adding: 'Every adverse development that harms Turkey is supported by the fundamentalists within. Those who govern Turkey are selected from those who will accept this destruction.'

He called for immediate measures to prevent religion being used against the people."
Turkish Daily News - �zt�rk: Every new mosque harms Islam

Sonic Flood in Istanbul!

Sonic Flood, in Istanbul to film their new music video, gave a great concert in Taksim last night. Look for their new video coming in 2006, This Generation, a call for this generation to rise up and reach the world.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

In Turkey, discussing what once was taboo

"The 10th-century Akhtamar Church, its stone facade alive with vivid images of birds, animals, saints and warriors, dominates a small island just off the southern shore of Lake Van. For nearly a millennium, this spectacular Armenian monument was a seat of great religious and political power.

Then the Ottoman Empire expelled and wiped away the Armenian population here in the massacres of 1915, and the church fell into near ruin. Its condition symbolized the abysmal relations between many Armenians, who believe their ancestors were victims of genocide in 1915, and the Turkish Republic, which rejects that claim.

This fall, at Turkish government expense, restoration workers began repairing the church. They have cleaned the exterior and replaced the collapsed roof, and plan to return next summer to work on the interior.

Although this is an act of historical preservation and tourism promotion, it also reflects something much larger. To the horror of conservative nationalists, there is a new sense of freedom taking hold in Turkey. The government is promoting democratic reforms that will one day, it hopes, allow Turkey to join the European Union. In the process, old taboos, like admitting the possibility that the Christian Armenians were the victims of genocide, are falling."
In Turkey, discussing what once was taboo - Europe - International Herald Tribune

Turkish Authorities Harass Protestant Communities (02.12.2005)

"Turkey’s Protestant Christian minorities experienced fresh harassment this past week from both security police and the judiciary, along with an attempt by vandals to set on fire one local church, reports the Christian news agency Compass Direct (CD).

Last Sunday, November 27, members of the Agape House congregation in Samsun, a city along the Black Sea coast, were disquieted by a large, white minibus parked in front of their church as they came to morning worship services.

Church members suspected someone behind the van’s darkly tinted windows was using a video camera to film everyone entering the church.

The apparent filming continued after the service concluded, when church leaders checked the van’s license plate and confirmed it was registered to security police headquarters. Pastor Orhan Picaklar promptly called the police and demanded an explanation.

Two police officers soon arrived on the scene, one in uniform and the other a security official. Apologizing and urging the pastor to "cool down," the officers promised to remove the van immediately.

"Under what law are you doing this?" Picaklar asked them. "Why are you taking these recordings? By chance are you trying to harass us?"

Despite police promises, the van remained parked in front of the church building until 6 p.m., when some of its occupants, who were frequenting a nearby coffee shop, returned and drove off.

Located in the city’s Atakum district, Samsun’s Agape House has just become the third Protestant church granted formal “association” status by the Turkish authorities. A year ago the mayor had vowed he would never allow the congregation, now numbering 35, to open a church there."

Meanwhile, in the resort city of Antalya along the Mediterranean coast, unknown vandals tried to set afire three windows of the St. Paul Cultural Center in the early morning hours of November 28.

According to the Rev. James Bultema, an American pastoring the English-speaking congregation at the facility, a neighbor woman across the narrow alley heard flames crackling outside her window at 1:40 a.m. Calling the fire department, she quickly woke up her husband and son, who with a water hose and buckets managed to douse the flames before firemen arrived 20 minutes later.

"If they hadn’t gone right to work, much more damage would have been done," Bultema said, noting that the building has wooden ceilings. "As it was, about US$1,100 damage was done."

Bultema said the arson attempt appeared to be an amateur job by the assailants, who from the street could only access the three ground-floor windows of Paul’s Place, the center’s coffee shop. "Three windows were set afire, but only one was really burning," he said.

Opened initially as a coffee house and prayer chapel in 1999, St. Paul Cultural Center was the first new Christian congregation in Turkey to gain government recognition as an official "association" in August 2004. Both English- and Turkish-language congregations use the office facilities and garden, worshiping in the second-floor sanctuary."
APD - Turkish Authorities Harass Protestant Communities (02.12.2005)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mustafa Akyol on Intelligent Design on National Review Online

Mustafa Akyol, a muslim writer based in Istanbul, has become one of the most vocal proponents of Intelligent Design. He spoke at the recent trial in Kansas. Here he makes some good arguements for ID and the impact it could have:

"When President Bush declared his support for the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) theory in public schools along with Darwinian evolution, both he and the theory itself drew a lot of criticism. Among the many lines of attack the critics launch, one theme remains strikingly constant: the notion that ID is a Trojan Horse of Christian fundamentalists whose ultimate aim is to turn the U.S. into an theocracy."

"In a furious New Republic cover story, "The Case Against Intelligent Design," Jerry Coyne joins in this hype and implies that all non-Christians, including Muslims, should be alarmed by this supposedly Christian theory of beginnings that "might offend those of other faiths." Little does he realize that if there is any view on the origin of life that might seriously offend other faiths — including mine, Islam — it is the materialist dogma: the assumptions that God, by definition, is a superstition, and that rationality is inherently atheistic."

"Phillip E. Johnson once said that the ID debate is about the question whether the U.S. is a nation under God or a nation under Darwin. We Muslims see the latter as a plague; we have no problem with the former. We might have disagreements, but we agree on the most fundamental truth of all — that there really is a God out there, and He is the One to Whom we owe our very life and existence."
Mustafa Akyol on Intelligent Design on National Review Online

The Growing Church of Turkey

The latest survey of evangelical churches in Turkey shows growth to the point that there are now about 2700 Turkish Christians meeting in 95 churches. This is up from a little over 2000 Christians in 71 churches in 2002.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Turkey under pressure on minority religious rights

"The European Commission has criticised Turkey for infringing Christian and minority religious rights, a month after the country began talks with the aim of joining the 25-nation European Union, writes Jonathan Luxmore for Ecumenical News International.

"In practice, non-Muslim religious communities continue to encounter significant problems: they face restricted property rights and interference in managing their foundations, and they are not allowed to train clergy," the commission says in its 2005 report on Turkey's progress towards joining the EU."

Non-Turkish Christian clergy continue to experience difficulties with respect to the granting and renewal of visas and residence and work permits. Religious textbooks have been redrafted to address the concerns of Christian minorities. However, it is still not possible for clergymen and graduates from theological colleges to teach religion," the report said.

Christians have often complained of pressure in Turkey, most of whose 67 million inhabitants are Sunni Muslims, but which is officially a secular state."
Turkey under pressure on minority religious rights - news from ekklesia

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

'Honor' killings steeped in tradition

Revisiting the dark tradition of honor killings:

"Heshu Yones, a West London teen, fought off her father for a frantic 15 minutes. She ran from room to room in her family home one Saturday afternoon until he cornered her in a dingy bathroom, held her over the tub and slit her throat.

The father, a onetime Kurdish freedom fighter from Iraq, told authorities that his only daughter had to die. The 16-year-old had sullied the family name, he said, by dating without his permission."

"Hatun Surucu, mother of a 5-year-old, stood at a bus stop near her home in Berlin after a brother phoned to arrange a meeting one night. The Turkish woman, 23 and divorced, was studying to be an electrician. She had argued with her family over her choices but she recently told friends that she was hopeful for a reconciliation.

Surucu was holding a hot cup of coffee when bullets tore into her. Three of her four brothers, ages 18 to 25, were arrested even as her parents denied family involvement to police. When the murder trial opened in October, the youngest son said he, alone, slaughtered a sister "who lacked morals."

"It was too much for me," teenager Ayhan Surucu said in court."

"Honor killings claim an estimated 5,000 women worldwide every year in overwhelmingly patriarchal cultures. Family honor is a tangible value in these societies, and women are considered family property."

"At one school near the site of the slaying, sons of Turkish emigres told teachers that Surucu deserved to die for living a Western life.

Principal Dietmar Pagel, whose neighboring school has a 70 percent Turkish population, quickly held class discussions to define the murder as a crime. The veteran teacher in Berlin's Little Istanbul area said his primer on the rule of law was as important as teaching ABCs.

"It's difficult (to educate students and their families) because the Islamic community here has become more closed," he said. "And the Turkish population tends to bring brides from Turkey to marry. So there is a constant reseeding of values from home - rather than real integration."

"Corinna Ter-Nedden, a psychologist who works at a shelter for abused women, said girls born and educated in Germany who come from Turkish families suffer the most from family pressure. Turkey recently changed its penal code to stiffen the punishments for honor crimes - a change seen by many as an attempt to bolster its hope for European Union membership.

That legal change has yet to filter into the psyche of the poor, small-town immigrants who make their way to Germany, Ter-Nedden said."
'Honor' killings steeped in tradition

PM Erdogan: Let's close the period of hate and animosity

The Turkish leadership diligently works to blur ethnic lines for the good of the whole:

"Arriving in Semdinli by helicopter, PM Erdogan visited the sites of the November 1 and 9 bombings, and then spoke to crowds assembled in front of the Municipality Buildings in Semdinli. Some of what he said is as follows:

"Our primary identity is that of citizen of the Turkish Republic"

"There is no other country in the world which has paid such a high price for terror. What we want is for the people of this country to live side by side, hand in hand, no matter what ethnic group, no matter what religion, no matter what regional background they are from....Turk, Kurd, Circassian, Laz, whatever comes to mind, these are all citizens of the Turkish Republic, united together under this identity."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Turkey Puts on Christian Show to Impress EU

"Turkey salivates to get into the European Union. It wants that recognition that it will do practically anything to prove to the rest of the world that Turkey is a totally secularized country and has no biases at all, particularly against other religions than Islam.

However, the Christians in Turkey are particularly suspicious of the latest showcase move on the part of Turk officialdom. What is going on when an actual Christian congregation gets permission to build a church and call it a "church"? How long will the church be recognized as a legitimate "church"? Will the Christians who gather there be done in in some way gross in due time, particularly after the showcase publicity subsides? And what if other congregations of Christians sought government approval for meeting in an actual building known legally as a "church"?

"Therefore, when "’Let’s praise the Lord with our voices’" rises to the church ceiling in the Diyarbakir Evangelical Church, how long will such worship enthusiasm be permitted to last? According to The Washington Times’ Nicholas Birch, the gathering is made up of "mostly Muslim converts" to Christianity. There are about 40 in attendance that particular Lord’s day.

It’s an enthusiastic group of Christians who have their musical instruments in hand and their hearts lifted toward heaven. They have their Bibles in close range for study and praise. They have their witness clear and open. But how is it that Turkey, not really a secularized nation but a strong hold-out for Islam, actually says to the media that this evangelical meeting place is going to continue."

"Now Turk officials have passed laws on the books that say that there cannot be religious discrimination. Of course, that is to impress the EU. In actuality, it is quite a different scope.

In fact, the new law even states that Christian missionaries may work in the open. Again, time will tell how practical this law will be when missionaries actually seek to spread the gospel message.

"’Nobody can claim that religious ceremonies are obstructed in Turkey,’ Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has boasted.

"But the reality for Turkish converts to Christianity remains more ambiguous, and many of their problems stem from the vaunted secularism that has defined modern Turkey since it was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk."
Turkey Puts on Christian Show to Impress EU

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The cost of faith

"DIYARBAKIR, Turkey -- With its simple wooden Crucifix, rows of Bibles and pastel-colored seats, it looks like a normal church. Until the singing starts, that is.
In the small band behind the altar, guitars are outnumbered by saz -- long-necked Anatolian lutes.
"Let's praise the Lord with our voices," the congregation sings. "Let's praise the Lord with our saz."
On the surface, the 40-odd worshippers -- mostly Muslim converts -- at the Diyarbakir Evangelical Church appear to have plenty to celebrate. After three years of official obstruction, the black stone building they renovated in central Diyarbakir was formally recognized as a church a year ago, becoming the first new Protestant church in southeastern Turkey since the founding of the Turkish republic 82 years ago."

"According to this overwhelmingly Muslim country's new criminal code, it is now illegal to prevent missionaries from working.
"Nobody can claim that religious ceremonies are obstructed in Turkey," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has boasted.
But the reality for Turkish converts to Christianity remains more ambiguous, and many of their problems stem from the vaunted secularism that has defined modern Turkey since it was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Whether Muslim or Christian, religious foundations have been kept in close check. Although the Diyarbakir congregation might have its church, it is still it is not legally recognized as a congregation.
Christians in the Istanbul district of Altintepe faced the opposite problem until September, when the legally recognized congregation finally got its building recognized as a church."

"Most of the other 50-odd Protestant congregations in Turkey are worse off, enjoying only the most tenuous legal recognition."

"Last November, in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, an American missionary was bound and gagged by two assailants claiming to be members of al Qaeda.
Although they didn't follow through on their threats to kill him, they warned that they would come back and finish him off unless he and his family left Turkey immediately.
Missionaries have long been treated with suspicion in Turkey, where rampant conspiracy theories link them to international attempts to divide the country.
The latent mistrust grew into something approaching paranoia in the first half of this year, when news outlets and some members of Turkey's government aroused fears.
On June 11, the staunchly secularist daily Cumhuriyet quoted intelligence sources as saying that evangelists were promoting ethnic divisions by concentrating their efforts on Turkey's Kurds.
The Islamic weekly Aksiyon said in March that 35,000 clandestine congregations were meeting in Turkey. The claim was wildly exaggerated but typical.
Rahsan Ecevit, the secularist wife of a former prime minister, charged in January that missionaries were paying Turks to convert to Christianity.
"We cannot ignore this activity," she said. "At a time we say we are entering the [European Union], we're losing our religion."
Timur Topuz, who attends church in Altintepe, thinks such prejudices stem ultimately from a widespread notion that being Turkish equals being Muslim.
His own grandmother, a Muslim, found it hard to credit his joy at watching Turkey defeat Ukraine in a recent soccer match, he said.
"You, a Christian, happy that Turkey won?" he quoted her as saying.
"People here still haven't realized that nation and religion are different things," he said with a shrug."
The cost of faith�-�World�-�The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

Headscarf ruling divides Turkey

The Turkish ban on women wearing headscarves in universities and public offices is a significant restriction on religious freedom. Of course, the reason the ban is enforced today has more to do with political considerations than religious ones:

"Leyla Sahin has run out of options. In 1998, she was barred from attending Istanbul University medical school because her headscarf violated the official dress code.

Last week, her legal challenge reached a dead end when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), based in Strasbourg, upheld Turkey's ban on women wearing headscarves in universities, leaving her no more avenues for appeal.

However, the decision also pointed a growing divide between the Islamic-rooted government and the secular establishment. Pres. Ahmet Necdet Sezer said the ruling was "binding" and should spell the end of the controversy, but leaders of the conservative and Islamic-rooted government argued the decision was not binding and promised to press ahead with an effort to lift the ban. Although the country is overwhelmingly Muslim, it has had a secular system since the 1920s."

"The court said that it considered both the need to protect rights and freedoms and to maintain public order in a country where most of the population, while pursuing a secular way of life, adhere to the Islamic faith. "Imposing limitations on the freedom to wear the headscarf could, therefore, be regarded as meeting a pressing social need by seeking to achieve those two legitimate aims, especially since that religious symbol had taken on political significance in Turkey in recent years," the court said."
Toward Freedom - Headscarf ruling divides Turkey

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

“once Upon A Time, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…”: How Turkey Took On Hollywood

Though hard to find, it may be worth the effort. One reviewer makes their case for Turkish Star Wars as the worst movie of all time:

"Turkish Star Wars (1982). If you have seen it, there is nothing to say. If you have not, make sure you do…"

"It is no secret that there are bad films. Actually, ‘bad’ is too soft a word. Hideous. Appalling. THE WORST. (Now you can dive into a thesaurus for other synonyms). But there are some which are so bad that they are actually good – as the sheer examples of ‘badness’."
“once Upon A Time, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…”: How Turkey Took On Hollywood

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Steppin’ into the Turkish Blogosphere

A look at some of the popular blogs on Turkey and Turkish issues. This is helpful for understanding Turkish thinking on different issues:
Global Voices Online � Blog Archive � Steppin’ into the Turkish Blogosphere

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Man says he's seen Noah's Ark

"A Tulsa, Okla., man says his faith in God led him to believe in the biblical story of Noah's Ark, but his trip to a remote area in eastern Turkey led him to accept the historic vessel was genuine."

"Val Smith says he traveled to Mt. Ararat recently to see what a 1960 Life magazine article suggested was the final resting place for the Ark, though the journey was an attempt to solidify, not validate, his faith."

"For Smith, the journey was a combination of living history and faith.

"Many people tell me I don't need Noah's Ark, I have faith. Well that's great. I had faith. But, now I know. I've been on this thing," he told the NewsCenter 8 in Tulsa. "Don't believe me and don't believe others. Read the Bible for yourself and look at these things. That's what really makes it simple."

The Turkish government has turned the region into a tourist spot, designating it "Noah's Ark National Park" and even building a visitor's center.

According to, the U.S. Air Force took the first photographs of the Mt. Ararat site in 1949. The images allegedly revealed what seemed to be a structure covered by ice, but were held for years in a confidential file labeled "Ararat Anomaly."

Turkey Slammed on Human Rights in Major EU Report

". . . the study raised worries over a laundry list of human rights abuses, citing the sensitive Ocalan and Pamuk cases by name.

The list includes: torture, freedom of expression, religious freedom, women's rights and trade union rights as well as a call to establish democratic control over Turkey's powerful military and to ensure full judicial independence."
Turkey Slammed on Human Rights in Major EU Report

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Christians Seek Reconciliation through Turkey-EU Membership Talks

" While the European Union (EU) membership talks with Turkey was delayed on Monday due to divided opinions within the nations, Christians in Turkey urged the European leaders to hasten the negotiation, saying that Turkey’s entry to EU will "cultivate reconciliation between civilizations".

"In Turkey, more than 99 percent of the population follows Islam. The Armenian people are the largest non-Muslim community and are traditionally Christians in their Turkish homeland of almost 3,000 years."

"We Christians of the East, who for centuries have lived in a Muslim word, can testify to this endeavor, and fortified by long experience, we can affirm that this event could be significantly enriching for Christians in the West who have started to live with Muslims and to experiment a multi-ethnic lifestyle only recently,"

"We pray for the success of the process of civilization and peace in the European Union and so that Turkey and the Armenian Christians, who make up the country’s largest non-Muslim community, may find their right place in it," the patriarch concluded with prayer in the letter.

It was the crisis over Turkey’s EU-bid last week that prompted the Patriarch’s call. The European Parliament meeting in Brussels last Wednesday had seen a heated debate over Turkey’s EU membership. EU ambassadors harshly criticized Turkey's record on human rights and religious freedoms, claiming it has failed to meet the corresponding standard on the EU Constitution."
Christian News - The Christian Post | Christians Seek Reconciliation through Turkey-EU Membership Talks

Bombed Istanbul chapel to reopen

"NEARLY two years after the bombing of the British Consulate in Istanbul, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has announced that the Foreign Office is to fund repairs to the Anglican chapel, St Helena`s, which was badly damaged in the terrorist attack."

"Canon Sherwood, who was awarded an OBE for his work in the wake of the attacks, said on Wednesday that everyone was thrilled with the news. Costs were difficult to estimate, but could rise as high as six figures. "No details of this have been discussed or agreed yet." He stressed that restoring St Helena`s was not about restoring an historic building for the sake of it; rather, it was vital for the work of the Church in Istanbul.

He said that the chaplaincy ran three buildings: a small 19th-century one used by Turkish Christian congregations; Christ Church, which hosts the main Anglican services, and acts as a hostel and school for refugees; and St Helena` s.

"We desperately need this sanctuary in the centre of town," said Canon Sherwood: "somewhere that can be open and used as a regular place of worship. We are not trying to preserve a mausoleum, but thinking of the future of the Church here. We particularly want to re-open the 19th-century gate, which goes on to the street, rather than have people come in the back way."
Pakistan Christian Post

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Iftar time

Iftar time
Originally uploaded by TurkeyNEWZ.
It's time for Iftar, the traditional Muslim meal for breaking the fast. This dolmus driver is late and is breaking every traffic law to get me to dinner. Of course, he would probably be doing that anyway.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Is Secularism Declining in Turkey?

"Turkey is a religious society in its great majority, and it can be claimed that religiosity has become much more visible during the recent years.

In Turkey, we face a devoutly religious society, but one with a religiosity that is tolerant of other beliefs, and which is compatible with pluralism, modernity and more importantly one that has internalized secularism. Professors Binnaz Toprak and Ali Carkoglu, two leading political scientists at Bogazici University, conducted a survey for the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Association (TESEV) in 2002, and found that 86 percent of Turkish people qualify themselves as “religious”. 31 percent of claim to be “highly or very religious”, while 55 percent considered themselves “fairly religious”. Ninety-one percent fast during the Ramadan, and 46 percent say they pray five times a day. The proportion of respondents who said that those who do not perform their prayers regularly, those women who do not cover their heads can still be considered proper Muslims, and that there are good people even among those who belong to religions other than Islam ranged between 85 to 90 percent. Over half of the respondents (53 percent) said that there might be good people even among those who do not believe in God. Proportion of respondents who said they would like to see Islamic rules applied to marriage, divorce and inheritance did not exceed 10 to 15 percent. Secular regime in Turkey is not guaranteed by state institutions or civilian and military bureaucracy, but mainly by people’s support for it."

Terrorism Threat No 1

Missionary activity was listed with some very serious terrorist activities in the latest document released by the Turkish National Security Council:

"In the section related to terrorism, the document highlights that the terrorist organization Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) is in search of a political ground and that some groups support the organization. Domestic threats such as religious reactionary acts, extreme leftist organizations, missionary activities, and corruption are thoroughly handled in the text. The fact that missionary groups took many Bibles and Torahs to the Eastern Anatolian region during the reconstruction process of the region and the necessity that measures must be taken is also noted."
JTW News - MGK Decision: Terrorism Threat No 1

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Turkey has achieved little progress in religious freedoms

"Camiel Eurlings, a Dutch member of the Parliament's Christian Democratic group, noted in a speech in Istanbul that Turkey had been asked to improve property rights for non-Muslim minorities and take steps to improve conditions for the Greek Orthodox community to train clerics, in a European Union report issued a year ago to assess Turkish progress in meeting EU criteria for entry into the bloc.

Unfortunately, there has been little progress since this latest report. The EU Commission released its annual report on Turkey's progress in harmonization with EU standards in 2004 autumn and is due to issue the 2005 assessment on Nov. 9. The report is expected to praise Turkey's reform progress while criticizing Ankara for remaining deficiencies."
Turkish Daily News - Eurlings: Turkey has achieved little progress in religious freedoms

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Secularism allows for religious differences

"From the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the rise of the Ottoman Empire, until its 20th century secular revolution under Mustafa Kemal aka Atatürk separated the Turkish mosque and state, Islamic authority in that country included civil, military and police powers as well as religious observance.

In the establishment of the republic in 1923, Turkey became more than a secular state. It also westernized itself by adopting the Latin alphabet in the place of Arab script, encouraging European dress, and banning the Fez."

"But secular is supposed to mean a separation of religion and state. A secular state should allow for religious differences, and by and large it does. What is at issue is mostly secular society, not religion, or its separation from the state.

If you do not have to be Christian to be French, Dutch or German, you can be an adherent to a church. You can also be Muslim, or Jewish, or practice any other religion — or you should be able to — to be a European.

So the debate over Turkey and the EU is very much a debate over what place a Western secular society accords its Islamic minority."

"Turkey is a secular society that is also almost entirely Muslim. Western societies that have Muslim minorities and want to block Turkey have to understand what is being said if that happens. If a Muslim society cannot enter Europe, then Muslims must find their future with other Muslims. In other words the world must organize itself around religion. Surely this is what the secular revolution in Europe — and in Turkey — was meant to avoid."
rabble news

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ravi Zacharias meetings in Turkey

Thank you for praying for the outreach events last week. Ravi spoke at 3 meetings in Istanbul. Two were outreach minded and one for Christians. In the two outreach events there were about 625 in attendance! Please pray that the Gospel seeds planted will grow.

Please also pray for the Şişli Belediye. As seen in this newspaper article above, they were accused of helping missionaries. This is a political shame tactic towards the Şişli mayor. This culture center has hosted Christian events in the past and hopefully it will again.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Is there religious freedom in Turkey?

"Go to any mosque or church in Turkey and you will see people worshipping. So clearly some religious freedom exists. Yet serious problems persist. Religious communities are not allowed to organise themselves as they choose. Individual religious freedom exists up to a point. For example, you are entitled by law to change your religion and to have the change recorded on your identity documents, but people who have done so have faced hostility from fellow-citizens. As soon as a religious community wants to organise itself, problems arise. This holds just as much for Muslims as for communities of other faiths.

Religious meetings and services without authorisation remain illegal, though it remains unclear in law what constitutes legal and illegal worship. The Ottoman millet system recognised some religious minorities and the 1923 Lausanne Treaty spoke vaguely of religious minority rights without naming them, but the Turkish authorities interpret this to exclude communities such as the Roman Catholics, Syriac Orthodox and Lutherans, even though these communities have found ways to function. Protestant Christian churches functioning quietly in non-recognised buildings are generally tolerated, but Muslims gathering outside an approved mosque are viewed as a threat to the state and police will raid them.

It is not possible for most Protestant Christian churches to be recognised as churches under current Turkish law. But in one bizarre case, a German Christian church was recognised in Antalya, but only by calling itself a "chapel" not a "church." Most Evangelical Protestant churches in Turkey do not meet in private homes, but in rented facilities such as office buildings or other non-residential buildings. These can be fairly large."

The government indicated to Protestant churches that individuals cannot ask for buildings to be designated as a place of worship, but individual congregations should try to get recognition as a legal personality first (as a "Dernek" or society) and then try to get their meeting place designated as a place of worship. At least two Protestant churches are now trying this route.

There are currently two Protestant churches that are legally recognised by the Turkish state, one of which is in Istanbul. It was recognised as a "Vakf" (charitable foundation) several years ago, after a long court battle, making it a legal entity. Several weeks ago, they finally had their building officially designated as a place of worship. The second example is the Protestant church in Diyarbakir, which has legal recognition as a house of worship under the Ministry of Culture, as a heritage site."

"All religious communities are under state surveillance, with religious minorities facing the closest scrutiny. Christian leaders know they are listened in to and their telephones are tapped. Police visit individual Christian churches to ask who attends, which foreigners have visited, what they discussed. They are particularly interested in which Turkish citizens attend."

"You have to be very courageous to set up a Protestant church in remote areas, as pastor Ahmet Guvener found in Diyarbakir. Problems can come from neighbours and from the authorities. Even if not working hand in hand, neighbours and officials share the same hostility. They cannot understand why anyone would convert to Christianity. People are not upset seeing old Christian churches – Syriac Orthodox and other Christian churches have always existed in Anatolia – but seeing a new Protestant church, even when housed in a shop or private flat, arouses hostility."
Forum 18 Search/Archive

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Chinese Mission Head Reveals Vision for China to be Greatest Evangelical Nation

"A prominent international Chinese mission organisation headquartered in the United States has shared the vision for China to become “the greatest evangelical nation" during its 10th anniversary celebration in Hong Kong."

"The Back to Jerusalem movement is an 80-year-old vision of Chinese house churches to take the Gospel from China to the area known as the 10/40 Window – where Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism are dominant and that encompasses 90 percent of the world’s unreached people."

"The general director gave support for the statement, citing some statistics. It is estimated that there are 60 million Christians in China and 1 million among them are missionaries. If just 10 percent of these missionaries join the Back to Jerusalem movement, it would mean a 100,000-strong force."

"Today, many Chinese Christians have the passion to evangelise the Middle East, according to Rev Lam. Lam has met many Chinese Christians from the province of Wenzhou in Turkey that have planted some churches in the area and are learning the local language to preach the Gospel."
Christian Today - UK & World Christian News Every Day > Chinese Mission Head Reveals Vision for China to be Greatest Evangelical Nation: "Turkey"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Turkey Holds 'Meeting of Civilisations' for Religious Tolerance Amid EU-Bid Threat

"An interfaith conference was held this week by the Turkish Prime Minister in a bid to ease out the criticism over its religious intolerance, thus gaining favour for the upcoming European Union (EU) membership talk next week."

"According to the Associated Press (AP), around 2,000 Jewish, Christian and Muslim delegates attended the "Meeting of Civilisations" conference in the religiously and ethnically diverse southern city of Hatay in Turkey.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday to the non-Muslim delegates, "Our differences are not inevitably pushing us toward a clash; they must not."

"During the conference, Christians were given the opportunity to report on the persecution they faced, according to Reuters' report on Tuesday.

Patriarch Vartholomaios, the Istanbul-based titular head of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians said, "We have difficulty understanding the mentality which sees our rituals as a show of force and our visits (around Turkey) as missionary activity."

"More than 99 percent of Turkey’s population follows Islam. The minority Christians are mainly descendants of Greeks and Armenians who stayed after the fall of the multiethnic, multi-confessional Ottoman Empire in the 1920s. And the Turkish Government officially recognises only three communities of religious minorities - Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and Jews, according to the annual International Religious Freedom Report released by the U.S. Department of State."

Christian Today - UK & World Christian News Every Day > Turkey Holds 'Meeting of Civilisations' for Religious Tolerance Amid EU-Bid Threat

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Human Rights Issues in Turkey Highlighted as EU Membership Talks Approach

"Ahead of the historical European Union accession talks with Turkey next month, the human rights situation of the predominantly Muslim nation has again been highlighted as a major obstacle."

"In a statement issued by the EU last December, the bloc mentioned that in Turkey, "religious freedom is subject to serious limitations as compared with European standards."

Religious freedom is often under threat in Turkey, the most populous Muslim country in Europe with very small Christian communities.

According to the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report prepared by the U.S. Department of State, 99 percent of the population in Turkey consists of Muslims. The Turkish Government officially recognizes only three communities of religious minorities - Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and Jews.

Under the law, religious services may take place only in designated places of worship; only the Government can designate a place of worship; and if a religion has no legal standing in the country, it may not be eligible for a designated site. Police occasionally raid unauthorized Christian gatherings meeting in private apartments."

Country of tolerance

"We often boast that Turkey is a country of tolerance. We say it is a country where the mosque of the Muslims, the church of the Christians and the synagogue of the Jews can coexist in one neighborhood of Istanbul, the cultural and business capital of the country.
Sometimes, however, we demonstrate in a very cruel manner our obsessions and lack of tolerance; we put aside a culture of democracy that requires one to be capable of at least listening to ideas that he may not share.

What boiled over at the Armenian conference in Istanbul during the past few days was a bitter reminder of that obsessive face of our national character, which makes many people afraid of what serious problems could indeed take place in this country if rising ultranationalism cannot be controlled."

"Tolerance cannot be defended with rotten eggs and tomatoes but with respect to differing views, arguments, beliefs and cultures.

We share the view expressed by Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir, for example, that the Turkish flag represents the entirety of citizens living in this land and their cultures. Similarly, this country belongs to all the different elements of society that together form the Turkish mosaic -- the inseparable togetherness of different colors."

"Representatives of the three monotheistic religions have come together for a conference in Hatay -- ancient Antioch -- to discuss cultures that have existed in Antioch over the ages. The representatives of the three monotheistic religions highlighted a common point: the common longing of humanity for a peaceful world and the need for mutual respect among different civilizations."

"Talking peace and commonalities but ready to accept all the differences we may have. This is the Turkey we want to live in. This is the Turkey we believe is a model country for our region and beyond."
Turkish Daily News - Country of tolerance

Sunday, September 25, 2005

French Street, Istanbul

Living in Istanbul has been a whirlwind of change over the last 5 years, but perhaps the most disturbing trend has been economic disparity. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Prices have risen at an incredible rate. The car I bought 4 years ago sells for more than twice as much today. The average annual salary is very low, but prices for everything are quite high.

A good friend of mine grew up in one of the most popular districts of the city, Taksim. Renovations and additions like French Street, a pedestrians only street filled with exculsive cafes, drove up the prices so much they and many others had to move. There are dangerous trends towards the materialism of the west here in Turkey, but in some ways they seem worse. The division of wealth, but desire for status seem stronger than in the west. Remember to pray regularly for the Turks that they would not give in the god of Islam for the false god of "stuff". Instead, we pray that they would find them both empty and meaningless and that God would lead them to real truth.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Turkey an Example of Religious Tolerance for 500 years

Universalism presented by an Armenian Church leader:

"Turkey is 90 percent Muslim. But in parts of the large cities, there are pockets of people of different faiths. VOA's Miguel Rivera looks at three houses of worship that share adjacent parcels in Kuzguncuk, Istanbul."

"Kuzguncuk is an ancient part of Istanbul, the only city in the world that lies in two continents: Asia and Europe. For hundreds of years its been inhabited by Muslims, Jews, and Christians; Turks, Armenians and Greeks.

Kuzguncuk lies on the Asian side of the Bosporus Strait. There is a church, a mosque, and a synagogue, right beside each other. The priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church, using a key made in 1835, opens the doors to a Christian world within a Muslim one. The priest is one of a few who come from another part of Istanbul to serve the faithful. And when he says “faithful,” he is referring to Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians, who enter this holy place to pray."

"There is no difference between us,” says priest Mehmet Biraz. ”Muslims come in here to light a candle. Yes, Muslims come to pray here. They light the candle and they pray. There is no difference. There is only one God and different paths to that God."
VOA News - Turkey an Example of Religious Tolerance for 500 years

Friday, September 16, 2005

Christians disappointed: Ankara has put off the pope’s trip to Turkey

"The government fears too much publicity focused on Bartholomew I and criticism about the country’s human rights record. Nuncio Farhat: “Turkey, a nation which is an enemy of Christians”.

"The eagerly awaited invitation from the Turkish state did reach the Vatican but with a vague and diplomatic: “We expect you in Turkey for 2006”, inexonorably placating “the pangs of the pope, which have shaken the state so much”; this is how insistence on the papal visit was defined by journalist Evren Mesci on the daily Sabah. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer invited the pontiff to go to Turkey in 2006 so he “can become aware in person of the climate of cultural tolerance” which prevails in this Muslim majority country. The trip, said the spokesperson for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Namika Tan, “will encourage efforts to intensify dialogue between religions and mutual comprehension among civilizations at global level.”

"And Bartholomew I? Publicly he bowed his head, telling journalists: “For us, it would have been a great gesture if the pope would have been able to join us to participate in our celebrations and it seems natural to us that he should be allowed to visit ‘his little brother’, but now we have lost hope, seeing that Ankara has crushed our invitation. Certainly it is not a nice situation, but we do not want to insist nor do we want to create a crisis with the State. Our leaders have judged that it is better this way and we do not want to be obstinate.”

“But why did Ankara react in this way?” journalist Deger Akal asked himself in an article published today in Vatan. “According to Turkish sources, all the eyes of the world would have been focused on Turkey during the pope’s visit; Turkey fears criticism which could arise and does not want to face upfront heavy observations like those of the Vatican Nuncio in Ankara, Edmond Farhat. “Turkey is a nation which is an enemy of Christians. It defines itself as a secular nation, but this freedom is only on paper.”
>>> <<< Christians disappointed: Ankara has put off the pope’s trip to Turkey

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Why you should visit Istanbul . . . now!

A nice little travelogue to the city we love:

"48 hours in Istanbul
Ottoman edifices, ancient mosques and all the delights of modern café society - no wonder they call this turkish city the jewel of the bosphorous."

"In the city where Europe and Asia collide, the weather is cooling off: no longer is Istanbul steamier than the average hammam, and the tourist crowds are beginning to diminish. September is the ideal month to visit Turkey's largest city, which drapes itself seductively over the shores of the Bosphorus."
Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Turkish Prime Minister urges for outlawing anti-Islamism

"At the opening session of the 6th Eurasian Islamic Council, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the worldwide propaganda campaign spreading the idea that Islam was in some way a source of terrorism and asserted his commitment to overcome these ideas in all the international meetings he attends.

He called on religious leaders, especialy those in Eurasia to dedicate attention and conduct organized studies on this issue, while declaring that ''problems which the Muslim world has to face can only be solved under the guidance of tradition and reason, a democratic basis and through science, experience and mutual consultation'.' Erdogan recalled the necessity to urge the European Council to adopt a wording in its declaration that accepts anti-Islamism as a crime against humanity, just as anti-Semitism has been accepted and endorsed as a crime against humanity."
Arab Monitor - Sito di informazione dal mondo arabo

Friday, September 02, 2005

Beware Onur Air

"German holidaymakers found themselves using adhesive tape to stick together the interior of a plane operated by a Turkish airline with a troubled safety record, a German newspaper said on Tuesday.

The midair repair job came during an Onur Air flight from Antalya in southern Turkey to the eastern German city of Leipzig, the Bild newspaper said.

"The pilot started the engines. Suddenly a piece of the interior of the plane fell on our heads. Some of the holidaymakers started to scream," one of the passengers, Gunnar Storch, 34, told the newspaper."

"A female flight attendant immediately ran into the cockpit to ask for the takeoff to be aborted. But the pilot wasn't in the least bit interested. He just carried on.

"Behind the interior casing, we could see the exposed wiring. It wasn't a very reassuring sight."

"Storch, who was returning from a holiday with his wife and two children, said he used tape he had in his hand luggage to attempt to stick the panel back into place as the plane reached an altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 meters).

The plane later landed safely in Leipzig but Storch said "no one was interested" when he tried to report the incident at the airport."
Travel Channel: News: Article:

Persecution in Turkey described as worsening despite new law - (BP)

Here's a link to the full article I posted yesterday:

"Bektas Erdogan never expected his Christian faith of 11 years to jeopardize his career as a fashion designer in Turkey.

Hired five months ago by a designer jeans company in the Beyazit district of Istanbul, Erdogan was assured by his Muslim employer that he would be evaluated on the basis of his work, not his religion.

After his first collection sold successfully in Russia, Erdogan thought the phone call he received from his employer -- asking him to come to work on a Sunday afternoon -- boded well. Maybe there was a surprise company dinner.

But that evening at the shop, his employer angrily accused him of “missionary work” and “brainwashing,” according to an Aug. 30 report by Compass Direct news service.

The employer, with the help of two employees and a relative, beat Erdogan for two hours, Compass reported; the men repeatedly struck the designer’s head and face with their fists and the butt of a pistol. Three times Erdogan’s employer attempted to shoot him, but the gun failed to fire, Compass reported.

“He really wanted to kill me. It wasn’t just to scare me,” Erdogan told Compass, recounting that he prayed for help and meditated on Bible verses while his attackers threatened to murder him and hide his body.

The two co-workers released the 32-year-old Erdogan with a swollen and bloody face around 9 p.m., warning that they would kill him later. Since then, he has received three anonymous phone calls threatening his life, Compass reported.

Erdogan told Compass he did not report the Aug. 7 incident to police, fearing that his employer’s ties with local officials might make him the target of further aggression. He also felt that once the authorities learned he is a Christian, they would be unwilling to help.

Erdogan told Compass he believes that his employer’s anger stemmed from shop employees’ interest in Christianity. During his last three months at the job, Erdogan said, “Almost every meal [at work] became a question-and-answer session about my religion.”
Persecution in Turkey described as worsening despite new law - (BP)

Thursday, September 01, 2005


"Persecution against Christians in Turkey is becoming more overt. Along with the usual delays in granting permits to Protestant churches, Christians are seeing signs of open hostility -- both verbal and violent -- toward their faith. In a country where the victims of abuse are sued and plainclothes policemen can act like thugs with relative impunity, it is easy for Christians to get into trouble."

"On the same day that a Christian fashion designer was attacked by his employer, Istanbul police beat two Protestant converts in their early
twenties and told them they could not be both Turks and Christians.

These two believers were on their way to one of Istanbul’s 25 Turkish-speaking Protestant churches on August 7
when they saw an American Christian worker and his 3-year-old daughter surrounded by a
small crowd of police and civilians.

He had been exercising the legal right to distribute
Christian tracts on Istiklal Caddesi, one of
Istanbul’s main pedestrian thoroughfares, when two plainclothes
policemen accosted him. One of them grabbed his chin and shouted at him for
distributing literature, quickly drawing a crowd of police and passersby.

When the two Christians tried to intervene on behalf of the worker, whom they
recognized as a member of a local church, a scuffle broke out between one Turkish believer and
one of the plainclothes policemen. According to the other believer, about 15 policemen
forced the first one to the ground, where they kicked and hit him before handcuffing him
and carrying him inside a nearby building.

“That’s when I first realized they were police,” said
the first believer, whose plainclothes attacker never identified himself as an officer.
The policemen continued to beat him for three minutes before taking him to a
local police station with the other believer, who had followed the group inside.

“They never showed us any ID or read us our rights,”
the second believer told Compass as he described the following hour in the police station.
After finding 100 Christian tracts in his backpack, police accused the
youths of being “missionaries” who were bent on “dividing Turkey.” Although finally releasing them without filing any
formal report, they told the young men that they could not be both Turks and

For more of this story, and other stories of the persecuted worldwide Church, please join Compass Direct.
Compass Direct

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Ravi Zacharias is coming to Turkey!

From October 9-15, Dr. Zacharias will be speaking at various locations in Istanbul and Ankara. Ravi is a world renowned Christian apologist and this is his first visit to Turkey. More details about specific locations will appear later. For more information about Dr. Zacharias, please click on the link below.

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cell phones are a part of everyone's daily life here in Turkey. I'm amazed at how connected they are as a society. It's gotten so I'm never surprised to see anyone using a cellphone, from covered grandmas to small children. The best illustration of this I've seen was this picture a friend of mine took. Now even the quiet countryside isn't safe when a shepherd is always in touch. Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 22, 2005

Trakya, the ancient region that is now the European section of Turkey, has been the home to many peoples and religions over the years, but their has been no modern church there. That is changing, slowly but surely, as new followers of Christ are added to a growing young church. Pray for this region, and the new believers there. Yesterday, 3 new believers were baptized at a picnic area, while surrounded by new believers from all over the region. It was a blessing for all involved! Posted by Picasa

Istanbul, the coolest city in the world

Istanbul is on the cover of this week's European Newsweek:

"After so many decades of trying to become Western, Istanbul glories in the rediscovery of a very modern identity. European or not, it is one of the coolest cities in the world."

"Spend a summer night strolling down Istanbul's Istiklal Caddesi, the pedestrian thoroughfare in the city's old Christian quarter of Beyoglu, and you'll hear something surprising. Amid the crowds of nocturnal revelers, a young Uzbek-looking girl plays haunting songs from Central Asia on an ancient Turkic flute called a saz. Nearby, bluesy Greek rembetiko blares from a CD store. Downhill toward the slums of Tarlabasi you hear the wild Balkan rhythms of a Gypsy wedding, while at 360, an ultratrendy rooftop restaurant, the sound is Sufi electronica—cutting-edge beats laced with dervish ritual. And then there are the clubs—Mojo, say, or Babylon—where the young and beautiful rise spontaneously from their tables to link arms and perform a complicated Black Sea line dance, the horon. The wonder is that each and every one of these styles is absolutely native to the city, which for much of its history was the capital of half the known world."

"After decades of provincialism, decay and economic depression—not to mention the dreary nationalism mandated by a series of governments dominated by the military—Istanbul is re-emerging as one of Europe's great metropolises. "Istanbul is experiencing a rebirth of identity," says Fatih Akin, director of this summer's award-winning film "The Sound of Istanbul," an odyssey through the city's rich musical traditions. Akin grew up in Germany but during the past decade has rediscovered his Turkish roots. "There's such richness," he says. "So many people have crossed Istanbul and left their culture here."

"Europe may yet balk at admitting Turkey to its Union. Yet the world won't end if it does. All signs suggest that Istanbul will continue to re-create itself, perhaps even more energetically. Remember the sounds of Istanbul's streets—European and Turkish and Balkan and Middle Eastern, all coming together in a strange but beautiful harmony."
Turkish Delight - Newsweek: International Editions -

Saturday, August 20, 2005

1,000-year-old church is being restored

"Rainwater seeps through the conical dome of Akhtamar's thousand-year-old church, washing away biblical frescoes from one of the finest surviving monuments of ancient Armenian culture. Bullet holes pock the sandstone walls.

After a century of neglect and decades of political wrangling, Turkey has begun to restore the church. The renovation comes as Turkish leaders face pressure from the European Union to improve their treatment of minorities."

"The church is the lone building on a tiny island in a lake. It is covered in scaffolding, as masons replace fallen roof stones to stop rainwater and rebuild the basalt floor dug out by treasure hunters. Experts also will try to restore the frescoes in the interior.

"This is our positive approach, our message," said Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has staked his rule on winning membership in the EU."

"Akhtamar has been empty for decades. Some of its reliefs are stained with paint and eggs thrown by vandals. Bullet holes, apparently from shepherds who used the site for target practice, mar the walls.

The church is considered one of the most important examples of Armenian architecture.

Elaborate reliefs project up to 4 inches from brownish-red sandstone walls, almost like sculptures. Some depict biblical stories, such as Jonah being swallowed by the whale and Daniel in the lion's den. Others show cows, lions, birds and other animals to remind worshippers that the church is an image of paradise."
Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Religion: "1,000-year-old church is being restored"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What is Muslim Bible Day?

Is your church participating in Muslim Bible Day?

"For 1,400 years, the church has been neglecting, avoiding and running away from Islam. But now, their time has come. God is at work among Muslims... and Believers throughout America are becoming purposefully involved in this movement of God through Muslim Bible Day.

This strategic project is a cooperative effort of churches across America to provide the Scriptures for those in the Muslim world. This year, hundreds of churches will be designating a special Sunday to collect gifts and offerings to be used for publishing and distributing Bibles in Muslim countries.

Today, there are fewer Bibles available to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims than for any other major people group. Most Muslims have never even seen a Bible, let alone have a copy of their own.

For several years, a group of ministries has been operating a secret distribution network in the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia. This work has been done at great risk to local believers who are committed to presenting the Gospel to the followers of Islam. Thousands of Bibles have already been discretely placed in the hands of Muslims… yet millions more are needed.

You can make the difference. Observe Muslim Bible Day in your church, small group, Sunday School class or Bible study and help make the Scriptures available to those who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel."
What is Muslim Bible Day?

St. Helena's Chapel (Istanbul)

Battle to save a past and hopefully future church building:


1. In Turkey protestants are only supposed to meet in Churches that are zoned as places of worship.

2. A number of the Turkish fellowships rent old churches, and thus satisfy the laws.

3. St Helenas Chapel is part of the British Consulate. It was damaged by bombing. The Foreign Office has plans to sell the site to a hotel, and close the chapel for worship.

4. The church council for Istanbul is fighting these plans, and needs community support.

5. St Helenas could be used in the future for a fellowship.

Phase One of our campaign to save St Helena’s Chapel Istanbul following the al-Quaeda bombing of 2003 has ended. The Church Council has succeeded in stopping the developer’s work on the site mostly thanks to the court action in June 2005. Access to the Chapel and freedom of worship there continues to be forbidden by the Consul-General, though an independent view suggests the Chapel is reasonably safe. The Consulate has not yet signified the Foreign Office’s intention to cease pursuing the commercialisation of the property. The damage, illegally done to our churchyard by the developer with the permission of the Foreign Office, remains a sorry daily wound for all of us to endure.

Phase Two. As the Chapel has been situated on British Government land for centuries for the purposes of Turkish Law, phase two involves a serious appeal through the democratic procedures available to us, The Mother of Parliaments. A question has been asked in the House of Commons. The Foreign Secretary has responded, but in a most insufficient manner. His response does not demonstrate any awareness of the elected and appropriate body whose duty it is to administer the affairs of St Helena’s Chapel, The Church Council. The Foreign Secretary defers to the Bishop who does not legally reside in Turkey and is unable to judge or witness locally on our behalf, but to whose spiritual rights we naturally defer."

St. Helena's Chapel (Istanbul): 11 Jul 2005: Written answers (

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Democracy key to development

Freedom for Turkey should mean more freedom for the Church of Turkey, let's pray that is what will come to pass:

"Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday that democracy was necessary in order to ensure a just and equally distributed development of the nation, adding that the people of Turkey were full of hope for their future."

"He said democracy was the key to just development, and it was their duty to make it stronger. 'Those who say this nation cannot rule itself are lying. Our three quarters of a century republican history has shown that when the country was governed by the people, it always advanced,' said Erdoğan."

"He called on the AKP supporters to be united against all efforts to split them, adding: 'Don't forget the fact the multi-party system in Turkey started in 1946. Since then, Turkey has had 59 governments. It means, on average, there was a new government every year.'

Erdoğan claimed the opposition was failing to keep their party organizations intact and they were calling for early elections to divert attention.

He said: 'Their only aim is to benefit from terror. If you know a solution to the issue, say it. The AKP is not the only organization responsible for combating terrorism in this country. All institutions will unite against terrorism.'"
Turkish Daily News - Erdoğan: Democracy key to development

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Right to Wear Your Underwear in Public

A government movement to stop people from swimming in their underwear has brought to light some more important questions:

"Turkey is taking its campaign to join the European Union to the beaches of Istanbul.

The city is giving away free swimsuits to deter bathers from jumping into the sea in their underwear. About 2,000 were distributed last weekend and stalls were also set up to sell them for $2 apiece, a spokeswoman for Mayor Kadir Topbas said. A pair of shorts sells for $10 at local supermarkets."

" Turkey is smartening up after EU politicians including German opposition leader Angela Merkel and French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said the country doesn't share the culture of the 25-member bloc. The government's drive to dress Turkish swimmers has sparked a debate about the rich-poor divide in the country, where the minimum wage is $265 a month.

``Is this the face of modern Turkey, of the Turks who are trying to enter the EU?'' wrote columnist Hincal Uluc in Sabah newspaper on Aug. 9. ``Would any European country want a majority like this wandering around?''

Turks' income per person is just 27 percent of the EU average, after adjusting for local prices, according to the EU Statistics Office in Brussels. Almost one million people have earnings below the hunger threshold and another 19 million live in poverty, according to Turkey's State Statistics Institute.

What's more, income distribution is more unbalanced than in any European country apart from Russia, according to the United Nations Development Program's 2004 report. The richest 10 percent of Turks earn more than 13 times that of the poorest 10 percent." Europe

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Fiction is Stranger Than Truth

First, this author has the US and Turkey in a full blown war over a minor conflict between soldiers in Iraq, in his next novel Burak Turna turns his conspiracy obsessed eyes to the whole world:

"The book describes how 'a secret world-wide organization of capitalists and religious leaders try to shape today's political arena into a worldwide war, so they can take the right position in a process almost unstoppable' - a process which would appear to make Armaggedon sound quite tranquil in comparison."

"First the US and China clash over Taiwan; the US Navy is reduced to "scrap" by "Chinese might." Neo-Nazism returns to Europe, this time targeting Muslims too, leading the Russians and the "great Turkish army" to invade. Meanwhile, India is invading Guam for some reason and the Turkish commandos and Chinese spies are trying to thwart the US from fulfilling its ambitions to use a"crazy space gun" to wipe out the Red Army. Brr!" Rapid Reactions: Turkey's "Metal Storm" Author Tops the Charts with "World War III" Sequel

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Istanbul is built on the water. With seas to the north and the south and the Bosphoros Strait running down the middle, people in Istanbul spend a lot of time near or on the water. It is one of the many things that highlights life in Istanbul. Riding on a boat is a relaxing way to get from one place to the next and a good reflection of life here. It provides a great chance to stop and chat while you are on your way. A focus on relationships is one of the great things about living in Turkey, and sometimes one of the most difficult for us to understand. It's good that sometimes we are forced to stop and wait on things and escape the rush of life. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 04, 2005

EU Warns Turkey on Religious Freedom

"The European Commission said on Thursday it had written to Turkey complaining about legislation on religious foundations that did not meet EU standards for the rights of non-Muslim communities."

"Turkey is working on a new law meant to ease property restrictions on its non-Muslim minorities, including Orthodox Christians, though EU diplomats have said the current draft does not go far enough.

Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew, ecumenical head of the Orthodox Church, has long complained that his church suffers from numerous petty bureaucratic regulations that prevent it from freely using property it owns."
The Epoch Times | EU Warns Turkey on Religious Freedom

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Culture Tourism Boom in Turkey Makes Retailers Happy

It's interesting that they talk about faith tourism in this article, but they neglect to mention most of the more prominent Christian destinations.

"Turkey has begun to bear the fruits of advertising its cultural heritage. A boom in tourism is taking place in cities renowned for their historical heritage.

Turkish tourism, long restricted within the “sea-sun-beach” triangle, has begun to reap the fruits of advertising its historical and cultural heritage. The number of tourists who visited such cities as Sanliurfa, Mardin, Konya, and Trabzon renowned for their rich historical heritage is growing."

"Faith and cultural tourism have great potential in Turkey that already receives a great deal of income through coastal tourism, as local prices are considerably lower than European countries. Through promotional advertisements and cultural events, tourists are flocking to Anatolia that harbors a rich array of cultures and religions."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Taxi Rant:

Taxis are a way of life here in Istanbul. They crowd the streets and it seems like they are always in the way, unless you really need one. It's especially hard to find one when it is raining. Sometimes I wonder how much clearer the streets would be without taxis in the way. When you drive, you really see traffic laws pushed to the limits by taxis. Sometimes I think that the driving courses must be taught by former taxi drivers. One of our favorite annonyances is when they "troll" for passengers. Taxi drivers slowly lurk in the street side lane, hoping to find someone to get in their taxi. It seems like they stay in the way, only pulling out when you are about to pass. The joys of big city driving!  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bagdat Caddesi (Bagdad Street) is one of the busiest and most modern streets in Istanbul. Starbucks, Friday's, and Gloria Jean's along with many foreign stores are a reminder of the materialism of the West. Every year Istanbul has more places that remind me of big city America. I enjoy some of the benefits that these things bring, but it is depressing to see more and more Turks moving to materialism as their religion of choice. The god of this world is glorified in this just as much as he is in the worship of Islam. Pray that the truth would shine through much brighter than the allure of money and "stuff". Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 25, 2005

Turkey's Population Exceeds 72 Million

"Turkey's population has increased by 6.3 percent (4,297 millions) since the last census held in 2000 and has reached 72.65 million as of the end of June 2005. Turkey's population was 67,768 million in 2000."

Turkey continues to grow and get younger. Have you prayed for these people today?
JTW News - Turkey's Population Exceeds 72 Million

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Prosecutor: Biggest threat is abuse of religion

"Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Nuri Ok said on Friday the biggest threat facing the country right now was the abuse and exploitation of religion and its values, noting that religion is injected into politics, commerce and almost every other aspect of daily life."

"Speaking after receiving the Honesty and Anti-Corruption Award from the Social Transparency Movement Association, Ok said it was hard to ignore the expanding influence of fundamentalist movements.

He said no one can claim that everything possible is being done to combat corruption, adding that there is still much to do."
Turkish Daily News - Prosecutor: Biggest threat is abuse of religion

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Attacks on Christians Intensify in Turkey

"In what could be growing into a trend in Turkey, individuals belonging to vigilante groups in the last six months have threatened Protestants and have attacked their places of worship.

The media has also been increasingly critical of missionary activity, according to a recent report by Compass News. Also, some government ministers have accused missionaries of being politically motivated to "damaging the social peace and unity" of the nation."

"In April a firebomb caused $10,000 in damage to the International Protestant Church in the capital of Ankara.

After the attack, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara issued a warning noting an "up tick in threats and vandalism ... occurring during a period of increased focus by the Turkish media and government on "missionary activity in Turkey."

None of the cases ended with death, but a near miss was cited when three young men bound an American named Wilbur Miller and his family, threatening to kill them, before the family was spared and told to leave the country immediately. It was not clear if investigations by local police and the U.S. Embassy resulted charges or conctions, the report states."

"In Turkey, the Protestant community is tiny, estimated to be about 3,500 Christians, in 55 locations of worship and 40 known house fellowships, according to Compass. Non Muslims in Turkey represent just 0.2 percent of a total population of about 70 million. Other Christian groups include members of the Greek and Armenian churches."
Christian News - The Christian Post | Attacks on Christians Intensify in Turkey

SONS OF THE CONQUERORS: The Rise Of The Turkic World

"With the increasingly globalised international system heading towards what looks like the elimination of nation-states are we heading for a new world which resembles the primeval soup in which nations could not be told apart?

This is the question behind Hugh Pope's new book which is about the identity debate in almost a dozen countries where what he describes as "the Turkic people" form either a majority or a substantial minority. His answer is that globalisation, while effacing political and administrative frontiers among nations may paradoxically encourage a sense of cultural identification. And this, he further argues, is especially the case among the Turkic peoples."

"Pope estimates the number of Turkic-speakers at over 140 million, almost half of them in the Turkey itself."

"No one knows where the Turkic world maybe heading. Turkey is trying to become part of the European Union while the Tatars and the Bashkir appear content to remain part of the Russian federation. The Central Asian republics may be entering a period of political instability that might ultimately lead to their democratisation. One thing is certain: the Turkic nations are to move up the news agenda and Pope's book offers much insight into their little known world."
Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English)