Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Turkey's Christians await pope's visit | - Houston Chronicle

"Next door to a store selling artificial limbs in a run-down area of Turkey's capital, the Protestant church sits on the ground floor of a dreary apartment block, with barred windows and kitchen chairs for pews.

The 100-strong congregation of the Kurtulus Church, which is linked to the U.S.-based International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, rents the space because authorities have not responded to its request for land and a permit to build a proper chapel."

"The pastor of Kurtulus Church, the Rev. Ihsan Ozbek, sees an opening for dialogue. "We face serious problems. Turkish citizens who converted to Christianity, especially, face serious discrimination and violence," he said.

The windows of his makeshift chapel have twice been smashed by suspected Turkish nationalists, reflecting a widely held conviction that conversion is treason and that Christian clergy are missionaries or spies for Western powers."
Turkey's Christians await pope's visit | - Houston Chronicle

Monday, November 27, 2006


"A criminal trial against two Turkish Christians accused of “insulting Turkishness” and inciting hatred against Islam grabbed national media coverage as religious tensions mounted before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow. Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, emerged from the opening hearing at Silivri Criminal Court on Thursday (November 23) to a cluster of clamoring journalists. Tastan promptly stepped up to the microphones to state, “We are being accused because we are Christians and because we have done missionary work.” Formally the two Christians are charged with violating Article 301 of the Turkish penal code for allegedly denigrating “Turkish identity.” The two former Muslims are also accused under separate statutes of reviling Islam and secretly compiling files on private citizens. “We don’t use force to tell anyone about Christianity,” Tastan said. “But we are Christians, and if the Lord permits, we will continue to proclaim this.”


Christians in Turkey frustrated by popular distrust�|�

"Christian pastor Behnan Konutgan knows a little about religious tolerance in Turkey.

After a life spent translating the Bible into Turkish and defending his faith in a secular country with an inherited suspicion toward Christianity, the 55-year-old Protestant feels his efforts are bearing little fruit.

"This year we have seen rising prejudice against Christians. Islamic and nationalistic sentiment is growing, probably because of the Iraq War, and people are angry," he said in his office, with no sign, hidden away in a rundown district of old Istanbul.

Popular mistrust of all Christians among majority Muslim Turks has also risen after Pope Benedict made comments seen as critical of Islam and the air of suspicion has been getting worse ahead of a four-day visit from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church beginning on Tuesday."

" The EU has also shown concern at attacks against non-Muslim clergy and places of worship. Catholic Priest Andrea Santoro was murdered in a church in Trabzon on the Black Sea in February.

Christians say tensions have been inflamed, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, by the Iraq War, Danish caricatures of Prophet Mohammad and comments by the Pope on Islam."

" In a study on religion by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) 60 percent of respondents believed that the work of non-Muslim missionaries should be restricted.

"This reflects a lack of self-confidence. They have this idea that there is this plan in the United States and Europe to convert them to Christianity," said Associate Professor Ali Carkoglu of Sabanci University who co-authored the study."
Christians in Turkey frustrated by popular distrust�|�

The State of Religious Liberty in Turkey

"The Christian churches in Turkey want more religious freedom, even as they realize that the country's secularism might also be a bulwark against radical Islam, says an observer."

"Turkey is not really an Islamic country, even if it is over 99% Muslim and mosque attendance is going up.

Until the 1920s it was a theocracy under Shariah law. Ataturk saw this as a stumbling block for social and commercial progress. He reinvented Turkey as a secular state and helped Turks gain the reputation of being "Muslims with a Protestant work ethic." His reforms included the abolition of polygamy, equal rights for women, coed public schools, and the prohibition of religious garb in public.

Ataturkist laws have been applied in such a way that Turkey de facto has an unofficial established religion, a moderate sort of Sunni Islam. The state appoints imams; it oversees what is preached in the mosques and what is taught in Koran schools."
Zenit News Agency - The World Seen From Rome

Sunday, November 26, 2006

20,000 Turks protest at pope visit

"More than 20,000 Muslims in Istanbul on Sunday staged the biggest protest so far against Pope Benedict's trip to Turkey as Islamic opposition to this week's controversial visit gathered momentum.

Benedict, due to begin his first official visit to a Muslim country next Tuesday, angered many Muslims in September with a speech they took as an insult to Islam.

Youths wearing headbands with Islamic scripts, beating drums and waving Turkish red and white flags chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) in the peaceful rally.

"I cannot remain silent when the Prophet Mohammed is insulted. I love him more than myself," said Husamettin Aycan Alp, 25, a science student from Izmir in western Turkey.

He said Roman Catholic cardinals chose this pope last year "because he is against Islam and are concerned Islam is spreading in Europe."

"Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who will be absent during the pope's visit, played down the controversy.

"We hope this visit will help eliminate misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians," Gul told a news conference.

"His message will be very important."

Turkey plans tight security measures for the pope, whose trip takes in the capital Ankara, Istanbul -- formerly Constantinople -- and the site where the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived and died near Izmir on the Aegean coast."
20,000 Turks protest at pope visit -

Pope's visit offers Turkey's Christians hope for improved religious rights

When Roman Catholic Pope Benedict visits mostly Muslim Turkey next week, he'll try to ease anger over his recent remarks linking Islam and violence. But he is also expected to press Turkey, which hopes to join the European Union, for improved rights for its tiny Christian community. That minority, at times forced to worship in so-called "apartment churches," has faced prejudice, discrimination and even assault."

"Ironically, the Christian church has deep roots in what is today Turkey, a land that has also been the stage of Christian and Muslim confrontations, most notably during the Crusades.

The region hosted some of the most important Christian events, including the first Council of Nicea - in present-day Iznik - in AD 325, which established a Christian doctrine.

All seven major churches of early Christianity, mentioned in The New Testament, are in present-day Turkey. The Pope will make a pilgrimage to one of them at Ephesus.

St. John the Apostle is said to have brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus, where she is believed to have spent the final years of her life, while St. Paul travelled through much of modern-day Turkey on his missionary journeys."
Pope's visit offers Turkey's Christians hope for improved religious rights

Friday, November 24, 2006

Hakan and Turan outside the Silivri courthouse

Video of Hakan and Turan's testimony, which was cut out by every news station in Turkey on their reports.

Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey - Yahoo! News

"A lavishly illustrated "Atlas of Creation" is mysteriously turning up at schools and libraries in Turkey, proclaiming that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is the real root of terrorism."

"Arriving unsolicited by post, the large-format tome offers 768 glossy pages of photographs and easy-to-read text to prove that God created the world with all its species.

At first sight, it looks like it could be the work of United States creationists, the Christian fundamentalists who believe the world was created in six days as told in the Bible.

But the author's name, Harun Yahya, reveals the surprise inside. This is Islamic creationism, a richly funded movement based in predominantly Muslim Turkey which has an influence U.S. creationists could only dream of.

Creationism is so widely accepted here that Turkey placed last in a recent survey of public acceptance of evolution in 34 countries -- just behind the United States.

"Darwinism is dead," said Kerim Balci of the Fethullah Gulen network, a moderate Islamic movement with many publications and schools but no link to the creationists who produced the atlas."
Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey - Yahoo! News

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Christian converts on trial in Turkey

"Two men who converted to Christianity went on trial Thursday for allegedly insulting "Turkishness" and inciting religious hatred against Islam, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The trial opened just days before a visit to Turkey by Pope Benedict XVI. During his visit, the pontiff is expected to discuss improved religious rights for the country's tiny Christian minority who complain of discrimination.

Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, are accused of making the insults and of inciting hate while allegedly trying to convert other Turks to Christianity. If convicted, the two Turkish men could face up to nine years in prison.

The men were charged under Turkey's Article 301, which has been used to bring charges against dozens of intellectuals - including Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk.

The law has widely been condemned for severely limiting free expression and European officials have demanded Turkey change it as part of reforms to join the EU.

They also are charged under a law against inciting hatred based on religion.

Prosecutors accuse the two of allegedly telling possible converts that Islam was "a primitive and fabricated" religion and that Turks would remain "barbarians" as long they continued practicing Islam, Anatolia reported.

The prosecutors also accused them of speaking out against the country's compulsory military service, and compiling databases on possible converts.

Tastan and Topal denied the accusations in court.

"I am a Turk, I am a Turkish citizen. I don't accept the accusations of insulting 'Turkishness,'" Anatolia quoted Tastan as telling the court. "I am a Christian, that's true. I explain the Bible ... to people who want to learn. I am innocent."
AP Wire | 11/23/2006 | Christian converts on trial in Turkey

Pope Benedict XVI's visit and religious freedom

Good article that summarizes some of the recent issues in religious freedom here in Turkey before the pope's visit.
Forum 18 Search/Archive

Monday, November 20, 2006

Will Turkey choose Islamic identity over secular law?

"Turkey, touting itself as the only Muslim-majority secular democracy in the world, now faces a test to see how committed it is to practicing democracy.

In late October, the European Union required Turkey to modify its decidedly un-democratic Article 301 or seriously jeopardize its relationship with the EU. Turkish Article 301 states that insulting Turkishness is punishable by six months to three years in prison. Just this year, 99 persons have been charged with violating Article 301. Most recently, two Turkish men were charged with violating 301 after police raided their church office.

Both men, formerly Muslims, had been active responding to inquirers in greater Istanbul. The police released them after taking their computers and interrogating them over two days. In speaking with the prosecutor, one of the men said, “I am a Christian, and I am a Turk. I will keep on sharing my faith. We are not ashamed to be Christians, and we are not hiding anything.” Their case goes before the courts Thursday.

What exactly was their crime? What were the crimes of the other 97 people arrested under Article 301? What exactly is “insulting Turkishness”?

It appears from the charges brought against the two Turkish evangelists that, contrary to public statements of Turkey’s secularity, Turkishness is in fact bound up with Muslimness, and anything that questions the nature of Islam also questions Turkishness."
News-Sentinel | 11/20/2006 | Will Turkey choose Islamic identity over secular law?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

There's A Fly In Our Holy Water

Interesting blog post:

"It's said that while the Ottoman Turks were breaching the walls of Constantinople the people were inside debating a theological issue. The question was this: If a fly lands in holy water, does the fly make the water unholy, or does the water make the fly holy?"
caught in the middle: There's A Fly In Our Holy Water

Friday, November 17, 2006

Secularism in Turkey means government controls all religions

"Turkey's unique brand of secularism is not separation of religion and state, but rather government control of religion, impacting both the Muslim majority and religious minorities.

The government builds and funds mosques, employs Muslim prayer leaders, controls religious education and bans Muslim women and men from wearing certain head coverings in public offices and universities.

The Turkish Constitution guarantees the religious freedom of all the country's residents, and a 1923 treaty guarantees that religious minorities will be allowed to found and operate religious and charitable institutions.

Secularists in Turkey see control of religion as the only way to guarantee Islam will not overpower the secularism of the state and its institutions.

However, the fact that the constitution and Turkish law do not recognize minority religious communities as legal entities has severely limited their ability to own property, and laws restricting private religious higher education have made it almost impossible for them to operate seminaries and schools of theology."

CNS STORY: Secularism in Turkey means government controls all religions

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Turkey adopts new law on religious minorities’ property rights

"Turkey's parliament approved a law that would give non-Muslim minorities property rights. At the same time, the Turkish government is examining the possibility of changing Section 301 of Turkey’s Penal Code. Both changes are preconditions set by the European Union in its negotiations with Ankara over its EU membership application. None the less, the new law on non-Muslim groups' property rights is likely to fall short of EU expectations.

The demand by largely Christian religious minorities for the right to own real estate falls within a set demands related to freedom of religion. Under existing legislation, these groups are legally barred from owning real estate."
>>> <<< Turkey adopts new law on religious minorities’ property rights

Monday, November 06, 2006

Islam challenges secularism in Turkey's east - Turkish Daily News Nov 06, 2006

"In the heartland of Turkey's southeast, plagued by decades of conflict between separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the state, a new threat to secularism is emerging -- Islamist groups.

Local politicians say these organizations are becoming more active in the poor region that borders Iraq and Syria, and some fear this could fan fundamentalism, especially among young people who have grown up with violence.

As in the rest of predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkey, practicing one's religion here long took a backseat to a public espousal of the secularism of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the republic's founder.

However, since the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has roots in political Islam, swept to power in 2002, Muslims are now being more open about their faith."
Islam challenges secularism in Turkey's east - Turkish Daily News Nov 06, 2006

Saturday, November 04, 2006

12,000 Turks march against radical religious influences, concessions to EU

"Thousands of nationalist Turks marched in the capital Saturday, vowing to defend the secular government against radical Islamic influences and urging the government not to make too many concessions in order to gain European Union membership.

Some 12,000 people from more than 100 pro-secular associations waved Turkish flags as they marched to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. "Turkey is secular and it will remain secular," they chanted during a march broadcast live on some TV channels."
12,000 Turks march against radical religious influences, concessions to EU

Friday, November 03, 2006

Turkish PM to sidestep the Pope

"The Turkish Prime Minister plans to shun a proposed meeting with Pope Benedict XVI for talks in Estonia instead.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to become the first Turkish Prime Minister to receive the Pope, during a bridge-building visit this month.

But the Turkish embassy to the Holy See has announced that Mr Erdogan, who is struggling to secure his country's entry into the European Union, would instead attend a NATO summit in Estonia.

Turkish analysts suggested that with elections next year, Mr Erdogan could ill afford a photo opportunity alongside the Pope, who provoked outrage across the Muslim world by citing the words of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor.

The program of the visit made no mention of a meeting on the day of the Pope's arrival. Vatican officials played down the apparent diary change."
Turkish PM to sidestep the Pope

Turk shoots at Italy consulate over Pope visit

"A man fired a weapon in front of the Italian consulate in Istanbul on Thursday to protest against Pope Benedict's visit to the predominantly Muslim country later this month, raising concern over the Pontiff's safety there.

"I did what every Muslim has do to. God willing, the Pope will not come to Turkey, but if he does he will see what will happen to him," 26-year-old Ibrahim Ak told the DHA news agency while sitting in a police car after he was detained." News - Latest News - Turk shoots at Italy consulate over Pope visit

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Converts in Turkey Charged under Speech Law

"A Turkish prosecutor slapped criminal charges against two converts to Christianity earlier this month, accusing them of “insulting Turkishness,” inciting hatred against Islam and secretly compiling data on private citizens for a local Bible correspondence course, Compass Direct News reports. Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, joined the ranks of 97 other Turkish citizens hauled into court in the last 16 months over alleged violations of the country’s controversial Article 301 restricting freedom of speech. If convicted, the accused men could be sentenced from six months up to three years in prison. “It’s all lies,” Topal told Compass. “Someone is trying to make us look like a Christian tarikat [banned religious sect].” - Religion Today Summaries - Nov. 1, 2006

92-year-old Turkish archaeologist to be tried for saying head scarves linked to sex rites - iht,europe,Turkey Archaeologist's Trial - Europe - Interna

Be careful when studying history in Turkey, especially if you publish your results:

"A 92-year-old retired archaeologist will stand trial in Turkey for claiming that Islamic-style head scarves date back more than 5,000 years — several millennia before the birth of Islam — and were worn by priestesses who initiated young men to sex.

Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, an expert on the ancient Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia between the fourth and third millennia B.C., is the latest person to go on trial in Turkey for expressing opinions, despite intense European Union pressure on the country to expand such freedom as freedom of expression. Her trial is scheduled to start in Istanbul on Wednesday."
92-year-old Turkish archaeologist to be tried for saying head scarves linked to sex rites - iht,europe,Turkey Archaeologist's Trial - Europe - International Herald Tribune