Sunday, September 30, 2007

US State Department Report: Turkey mistreats religious minorities - Independent Journalism From Today`s Armenia
A US State Department International Religious Freedom Report released last week criticized Turkey for its continuous policy of imposing restrictions on minority religious groups, particularly the Armenian and the Greek communities, who continue to seek legal recognition of their status.

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Friday, September 28, 2007


Compass Direct News
An e-mail message to several Turkish Protestant leaders in June surfaced in the Turkish press last week, revealing the names of Malatya officials alleged to have plotted the murder of three Christians there last April.

The Firat (Mediterranean) News Agency (ANF) reported on September 18 that an anonymous e-mail message signed simply, “A.A.” had named a colonel in the Malatya gendarmerie, along with an Islamic faculty member, as instigators of the plot to kill the three Christians.

The Malatya revelations were further stoked in the public forum on September 21, when FOX TV’s widely viewed Friday night “Objective” talk show hosted a controversial Turkish folk singer and his lyricist.

Singer Ismail Turut and lyrics writer Arif Sirin are facing possible criminal charges for their racist song “Don’t Make Any Plans,” which appeared earlier this month with video images on website YouTube eulogizing the teenage killer of Armenian Christian journalist Hrant Dink last January.

The song concludes with the words, “If a person betrays the country, he is finished off. The sun of Turks and Islam will never set in the Black Sea.” During the broadcast, Sirin expressed hostile views against Christian missionary activities in Turkey, criticizing the three murdered Christians for “selling snails [forbidden food for observant Muslims] in a Muslim neighborhood.”

“In Malatya missionaries were murdered and killed, that’s out of the question,” Sirin said. “But [they were saying] ‘We are selling snails in a Muslim neighborhood.’ Now look here, you can’t do that! Who are you selling to? I’ll take those snails and shove them up the appropriate place in that man.”

The Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey is calling on Christian congregations throughout the country to designate each Thursday in the coming weeks for prayer and fasting for the upcoming murder trial, as well as for other cases in Turkish courts addressing
the rights and freedoms of Christian citizens.

“God has been honored through the martyrdom of Necati, Ugur and Tilmann for their faith,” said Semse Aydin, widow of Necati Aydin. “So we must pray that He will also be honored through this trial, that the truth will come out, and justice will be done.”

Aydin noted that seven years ago, when her husband was jailed in Izmir for 30 days on false charges against his Christian activities, the church prayed and fasted, and the accusers withdrew their complaints at the first court hearing.

“It was really a miracle that these villagers stood up in court and admitted that they had been forced by gendarmerie officials to sign prepared complaints against Necati and his colleague, and that the written statements were not true,” Aydin said.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Suffering of "Secret Believers" Suffering of "Secret Believers"::By Rebecca Hagelin
For many people around the world, religious freedom is an alien concept. No “First Amendment” protects them. No tradition of religious liberty permits them to worship according to their own consciences. If they go to a church that isn’t the “accepted” church, they risk ostracism, assault, torture, jail … even death.

The fact is, Christians are persecuted around the world on a daily basis -- it’s just that their stories are largely unknown.

In Turkey, police recently arrested a man who set a fire at the entrance to a Protestant church in Izmit and repeatedly fired a gun. The incident was caught on a security camera installed several months earlier -- after three Christians had been stabbed to death. “In the last year, there have been scores of threats or attacks on congregations and church buildings,” according to a report compiled by the country’s Protestant

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

No Trial Yet in "Malatya Massacre"

Bianet :: No Trial Yet in "Malatya Massacre"
On 18 April, three people working for Zirve Publishers, a publishing company for Christian texts, were killed. Five months later, no trial has been opened yet.

10 lawyers to join trial

Lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who is to join the trial as a third-party for the Deliverance Protestant Churches, said that it has been impossible to reach files because the investigation has been conducted under the seal of secrecy, just like the Hrant Dink trial.

Cengiz has told bianet that a group of ten lawyers from Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara is going to join the trial as third-party plaintiffs.

Five suspects in detention

The three men murdered were German national Tilmann Ekkhart Geske, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yüksel. Five men have been arrested in connection with the murders: Emre G., Salih G., Cuma Ö., Abuzer Y. and Hamit C..

They have been arrested under the charges of "founding and being members of a terrorist organisation", "committing murder as part of terrorist activity" and "depriving people of their freedom".

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Silenced by Compulsory Religion at School

Bianet :: Silenced by Compulsory Religion at School
"Sometimes I am uncomfortable in Religious Education (RE) classes, but because it is compulsory, there is nothing I can do. If it becomes an elective class, I will not choose it."

Thus says an Alevi girl who is at primary school in Eyüp, Istanbul. She has obviously found nothing of her own beliefs in the RE classes, which are mostly designed to teach the tenets of Sunni Islam.

Simsek: State should not be involved in RE

On the other hand, there are also experts who argue that the state should not be involved in RE at all. Emirali Simsek, the General Secretary of the Trade Union of Education and Science Employees (Egitim-Sen) says that RE should not have a place in the constitution.

Compulsory RE classes were introduced in Turkey after the 1980 military
coup. Many Alevi organisations, but also other individuals and experts
have for years called for a change in policy.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

TV Channel Suspended in Turkey for Broadcasting Erdogan's Past Speeches

AK Party Opposition TV Channel Kanal Turk Suspended in Turkey » AKP Watch
Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to erase his past as a radical islamist by pressuring media companies to not broadcast his previous speeches. As a part of new image building strategy, AK Party has zero tolerance those who exposing their past. Earlier journalist Sezai Şengün of Daily Star Newspaper, fined approx. $10,000 for publishing Erdoğan’s photos with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a designated terrorist by US State department, who has participated in and supported terrorist acts committed by al-Qa’ida and the Taliban.

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Being brave enough to devise a civil constitution

At this point I would like to refer to something that shows the boundaries of the intention to prepare a civil constitution. Just like the circles that established guardianship over domestic politics, the European Union is also indifferent to the country’s problems. For instance, when the EU authorities refer to religious freedom, they actually make reference to the demands by the Fener Greek Patriarchy and religious freedom of the non-Muslim minority in Turkey. The EU was never interested in the problems of the majority in Turkey as regards the enjoyment of religious freedoms. Therefore the EU cannot be expected to back a provision outlined in the draft bill to allow headscarves in universities. Such a provision will be 100 percent local and domestic.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Status of the Minorities in South East Asia: Why Can’t Turkey Be Like the Philippines?

The Status of the Minorities in South East Asia: Why Can’t Turkey Be Like the Philippines ?

Like the Turkish government, the Philippine government constitutionally remains a secular state, but unlike the Turkish government, it neither supports nor discriminates against any religious group, institution, or people according to the constitutional principles.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Turkish leader: Lift head scarf ban

Turkish leader: Lift head scarf ban - Yahoo! News
Turkey's Islamic-leaning prime minister called Wednesday for lifting a ban on women wearing head scarves in universities, a shift in position that is certain to alarm secularists who fear the government is moving to foist a Muslim agenda on the nation.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement at a news conference that he wants a constitutional change to remove the ban comes just weeks after he scored a major political triumph: the election of his ally Abdullah Gul — a devout Muslim — as Turkey's president.

The opposition had vehemently opposed Erdogan's choice of Gul for the influential and highly symbolic post, saying it would open the way for the government to carry out an Islamic agenda.

Erdogan's comments Wednesday will raise suspicions he is taking the first step in that direction, particularly because it was a tempest over the head scarf worn by Gul's wife that galvanized opposition to the former foreign minister's presidential bid.

Secularists were appalled that a first lady wearing a head scarf would enter the presidential palace occupied by Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and they waged an unsuccessful four-month battle to block Gul's election.

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Turkish Mission accused of sending false report.

Milking Martyrdom | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
Appeals for prayer and aid circulated widely among Christians following the April murder of three Christians in Turkey. Now leaders of the country's evangelical community are denouncing one such appeal as dishonest. Sent under the name of Naim Aksam and his ministry, Turkish Mission, a Bible bookstore in Adana, Turkey, this e-mail included graphic descriptions of the supposed torture and dismemberment of the Malatya martyrs' bodies—descriptions discredited by widows' testimonies and autopsy reports. It also urged readers to send funds to the ministry's U.S. Post Office box to relocate the victims' families and other
endangered believers.

Aksam has denied sending the appeal, claiming that someone accessed his ministry's e-mail account and distribution list
without permission.

But the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey (TEK) still believes that he sent it, and said that it was rife with "lies and fabrications." In a July 30 statement, the evangelical umbrella organization wrote, "We are shocked and appalled that such a tragic event has been turned into an act of self-promotion and money grabbing." The organization's executive board is urging
believers to stop supporting Aksam's ministry, stating that past warnings about his fundraising methods have been ignored.

Still, said Todd Nettleton, director of media development for Voice of the Martyrs, "The worst-case scenario here is if people stop giving. For this bad apple to plant the seed of doubt in anybody's mind, that would be a tragedy."

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Video about Religion in Turkey

Rome Reports
Istanbul, a city between two continents. For centuries, the symbol of Muslim power threatening Christian Europe. Today, Turkey is an ally of the West, and a NATO member. A country with 99,8% Islamic population, asking to join the European Union. Pope Benedict's first Muslim destination, a few months after his controversial speech at Regensburg, provoking the first crisis of his pontificate.

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Video in Turkey Praising Hrant Dink Murder Sparks Investigation

Video in Turkey Praising Hrant Dink Murder Sparks Investigation | Huliq
Prosecutors have launched an investigation into a song and video broadcast on the Youtube video-sharing website that praises the January murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, the English-language Today's Zaman newspaper reports.

Prosecutors are looking into whether the folk singer Ismail Turut, lyricist Ozan Arif or the unknown person who created the video could be charged with inciting hatred.

The video posted on Youtube is a montage of images which Today's Zaman described as being "ultra-nationalistic, religious, anti- American and anti-Israel" and is set to the music of Turut's song "Don't make any plans." The song contains lyrics such as "if a person betrays the country, he is finished off" and shows images of the body of Dink after he was shot dead outside his newspaper's offices in Istanbul in January.

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Turkey May Block YouTube Again

By all means, don't disturb our thin skins:

The Peninsula On-line: Qatar's leading English Daily
Turkish court ordered telecom authorities yesterday to block access to the popular video-sharing website YouTube over videos that allegedly insulted the country's leaders, a report said.

The decision followed a complaint by a resident in the eastern city of Sivas that the site hosted videos containing insults against Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the army, the Anatolia news agency reported.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Turkey still imposes restrictions on religious freedom, report says

Turkey still imposes restrictions on religious freedom, report says - Turkish Daily News Sep 17, 2007
The U.S. State Department announced that the Turkish government generally respects the freedom of religion but still imposes some restrictions on Muslim and other religious groups and on Muslim religious expression in government and state-run institutions, including universities.

"There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Violent attacks and threats against non-Muslims during the reporting period created an atmosphere of pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslim communities. Although proselytizing is legal in the country, some Muslims, Christians, and Bahais faced a few restrictions and occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing or unauthorized meetings," the report said.

The report also touched on the killings of a German protestant in Malatya and said: "There were reports of religiously motivated killings during the reporting period.

On April 18, 2007, three members of a Protestant church in Malatya, including a German citizen, were tortured and killed in the office of a company that publishes books on
Christianity. The suspects of the killings had notes on their persons claiming, "we did it for our religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion.'"

"Death threats against Christian American citizens continue to be a concern. For example, Christian American citizens living in the country received religion-based death threats via letters and voicemails, stating that if they did not return
to America they would be killed," the report said.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Turks to rally against article 301 Saturday

Turks to rally against article 301 Saturday » Armenian Breaking News
Recently established “No to racism and nationalism” Turkish public movement is launching a campaign tomorrow to demand annulment of article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The slogan of the action is “Article 301 must be cancelled. Racists must be punished.” The initiators are convinced that article 301, which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness”, is a serious obstacle to freedom of speech in Turkey. The action participants intend to issue a declaration to be submitted to the Turkish parliament. The measure is supported by Heinrich Böll Foundation.

“No to racism and nationalism” public movement was formed after the killing of Agos editor Hrant Dink. The movement members are going to participate in court sessions on Dink’s murder and in hearings of suits brought against Agos current editors, RFE/RL reports.

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Friday, September 14, 2007


"A Turkish judge announced his withdrawal this week from the case of two Christians charged with “insulting Turkishness.”

Judge Neset Eren said at a hearing on Wednesday (September 12) that he was quitting to “distance the court’s decision from any form of indecision or doubt.”

Eren’s announcement came after the plaintiffs’ ultranationalist lawyer submitted a written request on September 4 that the judge resign. Kemal Kerincsiz accused Eren of failing to deal impartially with the case.

Exactly 11 months into the case, Eren had been expected to deliver a ruling at the hearing on Wednesday in Silivri’s criminal court, 45 miles west of Istanbul."


But at their most recent hearing in July, State Prosecutor Ahmet Demirhuyuk had told the court that there was “not a single piece of credible evidence” to support the accusations against the two men, both converts from Islam to Christianity.

A new state prosecutor, Adnan Ozcan, replaced Demirhuyuk at Wednesday’s hearing.

The courthouse was surrounded by supporters of Kerincsiz and his three young clients, two of them minors, who have accused Tastan and Topal of slandering Turkey and Islam.

“If [Tastan and Topal] had been acquitted, there would have been a large protest,” said the Christians’ lawyer, Gursel Meric.

Meric, who attended the hearing without Tastan and Topal, said that the prosecution attempted to prolong the case by asking for additional testimonies."

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A draft of the planned new Turkish constitution has been leaked to the media, and it suggests that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to ease restrictions on the expression of religious and non-Turkish ethnic identities while reducing the political influence of the Turkish military.

The draft proposes easing restrictions on the use of the Kurdish
language. Although private Kurdish language courses are now permitted,
it still cannot be used in Turkish schools, either as a medium of
instruction or as a “foreign” language. Article 3 of the current
constitution on the basic characteristics of the Turkish Republic
states “Its language is Turkish.” However, Article 3 of the new draft
amends the clause to read, “Its official language is Turkish.” Article
45 explicitly allows education in other languages provided that new
laws are promulgated to that effect.

Under the current constitution, religious instruction is compulsory
throughout the Turkish school system. The new draft makes religious
lessons optional. However, it also contains a much stronger commitment
to freedom of conscience and belief -- something hard-line secularists
believe will allow radical Islamists to shift the focus of religious
education away from the state-monitored school system by making it
easier to open private Koran courses.

Most contentiously, a proposed “alternative” to the main draft of
Article 45 of the new constitution includes a commitment to ensuring
that the manner in which people are dressed does not prevent them from
receiving a higher education. In practice, this would result in lifting
the current ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in Turkish
universities (Radikal, September 13).

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Islamist Pressures On Turkey’s Inter-City Transportation

Mainstream Turkish daily Milliyet had this front-page headliner on September 5: “Forced stop for namaz (Islamic prayer) on the road”. The news about an inter-city coach of Metro Tourism company making an unscheduled stop at a mosque, on its way from the Black Sea city of Samsun to Istanbul uncovered a problem that many private transportation companies have recently been facing. According to reports, some Islamist passengers on long distance bus routes are imposing upon the drivers to make stops near mosques at times of the five daily prayers. Islamist passengers insult the drivers that object and other passengers that protest their demands by calling them “un-Muslim” and “infidels”, and threaten to boycott the bus company. Having to wait for about half an hour in a bus parked next to a mosque until prayers are over cause irritation among other passengers, leading to arguments and tensions throughout the trip. Executives of bus companies told journalists that their drivers were recently facing such unacceptable demands that would potentially create a chaos in Turkey’s ground transportation network. An executive of Ulusoy bus company said, “these people also fly on airplanes; do they dare and ask the plane to be stopped too?”

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Most European Nations Keep God Out of Constitution

Most European Nations Keep God Out of Constitution | Europe | Deutsche Welle | 09.09.2007
One secular country knocking on Europe's door is Turkey. The preamble of their constitution says that, "holy religious sentiments, as the principle of secularism demands, should in no way be mixed with the affairs and politics of the state." However, Islam plays a very important role in Turkish society. Secularism in Turkey is different than in France. It is not about the absolute separation of church and state, but about state control of religion. To make this clear, Article 136 of the Turkish constitution added the Committee for Religious Affairs. "Turkey also likes to see that religion has a place in the constitution," said Aiman Mazyek, secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. He said German Muslims were disappointed that Christians, despite their strong lobby in Europe, did not manage to push through a reference to God in the EU treaty. "There are very different systems in Europe and it would be too narrow an approach to say that we cannot accept God in our constitution because France has a secular system," Mazyek said. "In the German constitution, we included the recognition of a being that created everything, without any secularity or laicism."

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Fighting for the soul of Turkey

"In Turkey, even the winds have meaning. There is the samiel, a hot dry wind from the south associated with destruction; there's the lodos, the moist, warm southwesterly that brings with it lethargy and a tendency toward laissez-faire; then there's the karayel and poyraz,
winds from the north forecasting storms and warning people to take
shelter. The winds change often -- as they are currently doing in
Turkish politics.

After a spring season in which the
Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) and secularists,
including the army, faced off over the appointment of Abdullah Gul as
the country's new president, the standoff led to early elections on
July 22. The AKP won a resounding victory, garnering nearly half of the
popular vote -- a 14 per cent jump from its previous election results.
Then, last Tuesday, Gul, a devout Muslim and AKP member, finally won
the presidency after three parliamentary votes -- in the face of yet
another warning from the military. All that has set off a political
debate in Turkey virtually unparalleled in its history, with the
Islamist movement emboldened, and secularists, who lay claim to
Turkey's founding principles, on the defensive. "How the Turkish
experiment will unfold," says Soli Ozel, professor of political science
at Bilgi University in Istanbul, "is not going to be important just for
Turkey itself, but it will have repercussions."

Fighting for the soul of Turkey | - World - Global

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Xenophobia on the rise among Turks, say experts

"A recent survey says Turks are going cold toward Europe, the United
States, NATO and Israel but the feelings have worsened toward Iran too,
a finding which beefs up the old Turkish saying ‘Turks have no friends
other than Turks’"

Kalaycıoğlu said religion also played a significant role in the
survey as it showed Turks were more benevolent toward Muslim countries
than other countries with different religions.

'Both Saudi
Arabia and Israel are extensions of the United States in the Middle
East but Turks are warmer toward Saudi Arabia. Religion seems to be a
reason for this,' he said. But Iran, a Muslim Shiite country, stands as
an exception in this case.

Sabri Sayarı of Sabancı University said the attitude of Turks toward Europe and the United States was understandable.

the results about Iran are quite surprising because Iranians pursue
non-contradictory policies to Turkey on terrorism,' he added."

Xenophobia on the rise among Turks, say experts - Turkish Daily News Sep 08, 2007

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Remains of the day

Ephesus, Turkey — When St. Paul arrived here nearly 2,000 years ago, this bustling port city was famous for its enormous amphitheater, highly coveted marble and one of the wonders of the ancient world.

When Paul left three years later, Ephesus was known for something else entirely: a budding Christian community whose adjustments to a new religion provide guidance for followers of Jesus, even today.

While Jerusalem and northern Israel are well-known hubs for Christian pilgrims interested in where Jesus lived and died, Turkey offers deeper insights about the path and progress of his followers and his faith.

Roughly 70 percent of the sites mentioned in the New Testament — places like Tarsus, Ephesus, Antioch, Galatia — are in present-day Turkey, the area where Paul spent almost 20 years working to spread Christianity to non-Jewish residents of the region.

Few U.S. tourists

These historic sites, as well as the country's beaches, liberal culture and reputation for safety have made Turkey a favorite vacation spot for Europeans and a growing tourist hub over the last decade. Americans, however, have not been part of the trend. Of the nearly 20 million tourists who vacationed in Turkey in 2006, only 2 percent came from the United States, according to Turkey's Ministry of Tourism.

But for those interested in travel to the Middle East, whether for religious or other reasons, Turkey provides an excellent starting point. And its economy is easier on a wallet than Europe or Israel.

Basing a trip at one of Turkey's Aegean Sea beach resorts allows visitors to take advantage of the country's major tourist draws, including well-kept biblical sights like Ephesus, whose majestic ruins have been likened to those in Pompeii for their scope and visual majesty.

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Friday, September 07, 2007


"Police in Turkey’s western city of Izmit have arrested a man who set a fire early yesterday morning at the entrance of the local Protestant church and then shot off his pistol several times.

The church’s pastor is the brother-in-law of one of the converts to Christianity murdered in Malatya in April and has been targeted by Islamic extremists.

Identified by police authorities as Semih Sahin, the man who set fire to the church entrance reportedly told interrogators that he had been “bothered” by what he heard and read in the newspapers about the Izmit Protestant Church, so he wanted to “make a scene” to arouse public attention against it.

According to local police, who described the apprehended suspect as a “psychopath,” Sahin has a previous criminal and prison record. He was brought before a local prosecutor, formally charged and jailed yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday’s incident, which occurred at 3:15 a.m., was recorded on a security camera installed by the church several months ago, in the wake of the gruesome stabbing deaths of three Protestant Christians in Malatya on April 18."

Monday, September 03, 2007

World churches say Christians face hardship in Turkey - Turkish Daily News Sep 01, 2007

"Orthodox believers and other Christian minorities in secular but mainly Muslim Turkey face hardships and barriers in exercising their faith, the World Council of Churches (WCC) said Thursday."

"Religious minority rights have been an issue in Turkey's drive to enter the European Union, with EU officials insisting that Ankara must move on a long-stalled law on church foundations and treat the Orthodox Patriarch better."
World churches say Christians face hardship in Turkey - Turkish Daily News Sep 01, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mark Byron: See Gul in Charge

"One of the big news items of the week was the election of Abdullah Gul as Turkish president. It's the first time that an Islamic (rather than secular) leaning politician has headed up the country. The new First Lady wears a scarf, a no-no for secular Turks; it's far from a burqa. The one in the BBC piece is something that I could see Laura Bush wearing on the right occasion; a modern woman making a bow for Islamic modesty without looking like a Taliban throwback.

Gul's AK (Justice and Development in English) party is describe by the WaPo as "mildly Islamic." From what I've read of modern Turkish history, the AK's predecessor Welfare party was a bit more on the theocon side of things than the AK, which comes across as akin to the US Republicans if you substitute Christian for Muslim; no calls for sharia, but for more tolerance of Islam in the public square.

The AK's Wikipedia describes the change from the Welfare Party that the military (who sees itself as the guardian of secularism) booted from power in 1997 as altering "the traditional focus of religiously-affiliated politics from concern over Turkey’s lack of Islamic characteristics to pushing for democratic and economic reforms in addition to stressing moral values through the communitarian-liberal consensus." That has allowed the AK to oversee economic reforms that have boosted Turkish GDP in the 00's. Many swing voters went with their pocketbooks and went with the AK, similar to the libertarian-theocon coalition that makes the GOP tick."
Mark Byron: See Gul in Charge