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.