Monday, October 25, 2010

Politicians and famous soccer player attend 10-year anniversary of a local church’s foundation

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Altintepe Protestant Church Foundation. In what was celebrated as a "miracle of tolerance" by the leadership of the foundation, the anniversary was attended by many local dignitaries and a famous Christian soccer player from Brazil, who is currently playing for an Istanbul team. The program had many highlights, including a speech by Bobo, the Brazilian soccer player and different musical performances. Also in attendance were leaders from other Christian churches and several guests from outside of Turkey.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christians in Turkey Acquitted of ‘Insulting Turkishness’

After four years of legal battle in a Turkish court, a judge acquitted two Christians of insulting Turkey and its people by spreading Christianity, but not without slapping them with a hefty fine for a spurious charge.

Four years ago this month, Turan Topal, 50, and Hakan Tastan, 41, started a legal battle after gendarmerie officers produced false witnesses to accuse them of spreading their faith and allegedly “insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.”

At the Silivri court an hour west of Istanbul, Judge Hayrettin Sevim on Thursday (Oct. 14) acquitted the defendants of two charges that they had insulted the Turkish state (Article 301) and that they had insulted its people (Article 216) by spreading Christianity. Sevim cited lack of evidence.

He found them guilty, however, of collecting information on citizens without permission (Article 135) and sentenced them to seven months of imprisonment each. The court ruled that the two men could each pay a 4,500 lira (US$3,170) fine instead of serving time, said their lawyer Haydar Polat.

Tastan expressed mixed feelings about the verdicts.

“For both Turan and I, being found innocent from the accusation that we insulted the Turkish people was the most important thing for us, because we’ve always said we’re proud to be Turks,” Tastan said by telephone. “But it is unjust that they are sentencing us for collecting people’s information.”

At the time of their arrests, Topal and Tastan were volunteers with The Bible Research Center, which has since acquired official association status and is now called The Association for Propagating Knowledge of the Bible. The two men had used contact information that individuals interested in Christianity had volunteered to provide on the association’s website.

Administrators of the association stated openly to local authorities that their goal was to disseminate information about Christianity.

The two men and their lawyer said they will be ready to appeal the unjust decision of the court when they have seen the official statement, which the court should issue within a month. Polat said the appeal process will take over a year.

“Why should we have to continue the legal battle and appeal this?” asked Tastan. “We are not responsible for the information that was collected. So why are they fining us for this? So, we continue our legal adventure.”

Still, he expressed qualified happiness.

“We are free from the charges that we have insulted the Turkish state and the people of Turkey and we’re glad for that, but we are sorry about the court’s sentence,” Tastan said. “We’re happy on one hand, and sorry on the other.”

The court hearing lasted just a few minutes, said Polat.

“The judges came to the court hearing ready with their decision,” Polat said. “Their file was complete, and there was neither other evidence nor witnesses.”

Polat was hesitant to comment on whether the decision to convict the men of collecting private data without permission was because they are Christians. He did underline, however, that the court’s decision to fine the men was unjust, and that they plan to appeal it after the court issues an official written verdict.

“This was the court’s decision,” said Polat, “but we believe this is not fair. This decision is inconsistent with the law.”


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Turkish nationalists accused of killing bishop

Turkey's top Roman Catholic bishop has publicly accused Turkish ultra-nationalists and religious fanatics of being behind the slaying of the country's senior bishop in June.
Monsignor Luigi Padovese, the Vatican's apostolic vicar in Anatolia, was stabbed to death by his driver outside his home in Iskenderun on June 3, a day before he was to leave for Cyprus to meet Pope Benedict XVI.
The slaying shocked the Turkish church and cast a cloud over Benedict's visit. It was the latest in a string of attacks in recent years on Christians in predominantly Muslim Turkey, where Christians make up less than 1 percent of the 70 million population.
Turkish officials have insisted the slaying was personal and not religious or politically motivated, and the driver's lawyer has said the suspect had mental problems.
But the head of Turkey's bishops' conference, Monsignor Ruggero Francheschini, told a Vatican meeting Thursday that Padovese was the victim of "premeditated murder" by the same forces that Padovese had denounced for killing a priest in 2006 and three Christians in 2007.


Turkey's dwindling Orthodox Christians fear end is approaching

Andreas Zografos left Turkey in 1974 amid economic and political turmoil to find work in Europe, but he always knew he would return home.

"The ties of this land are strong. I was drawn back by the blue of the sea, the colour of the sky," he says.

A Greek Orthodox Christian, Zografos, 63, and his wife today tend to the 19th-century St Nicholas Church, where his grandfather painted vibrant icons, on Heybeliada, or Halki in Greek, an island off the Istanbul coast.

Heybeliada was home to a few thousand ethnic Greeks when he left, Zografos says. About 25 remain, part of a dwindling community of 2,500 Greeks in Istanbul, capital of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire until the Ottoman conquest of 1453.

Istanbul, a city of 13 million Muslims, is still the seat of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox.

"We are proud our patriarch is still here in the land where our faith began. This is holy land," Zografos says.

But vast numbers of Christians have left their ancient homeland and now make up just 0.13 percent of Turkey's population of 73 million people.

He remembers Sundays in the 1960s when the congregation would fill the basilica-style church and spill into the narthex.

"If I don't do this, who will?" says Zografos, who says he is not religious but feels a duty to serve his community.

"Soon there will be just one or two of us left on the island. I don't see anything else but the end."


Turkish State Minister calls Christians “gavur” (unfaithful)

The Chair of the Syriac Culture Association Yuhanna Aktas stated Turkish State Minister Faruk Celik should apologize to Christians for calling them gavur (an offensive ethnic slur used by Muslims in Turkey to describe all who are non-Muslim) in one of the TV programs several days ago.

Aktas sharply criticized Turkish Minister’s cynical statement, saying Celik insulted Christianity and should apologize to all Christians in Turkey.

This irresponsible statement proves what the Turkish Minister thinks of non-Muslims in Turkey. We fiercely criticize his attitude,” Aktas stressed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alevi sit-in protest to continue for 24 hours in Turkish capital

A sit-in organized by an Alevi group to protest against mandatory religion classes Saturday will continue for another 24 hours in the Turkish capital, daily Hürriyet reported on its website.

Around 2,000 people took part in the sit-in protest led by the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Institution in Ankara's Kızılay Square, where group leaders spoke out against a Constitution-mandated "religious culture and moral knowledge" class for primary and secondary schools.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Armenian Surb Harutyun church reopened in Istanbul

On October 7, the Armenian Surb Harutyun (Holly Resurrection) Church opened in Beyoglu district of Istanbul. The church was restored by the funds of the Istanbul community of Sisli.

Armenian Deputy Patriarch of Constantinople Archbishop Aram Ateshyan and Mayor of Sisli District Mustafa Sarigul attended the ceremony.

In his speech, the Turkish official said their aim is to ensure freedom of religion of all citizens, without national, religious and cultural discrimination.

According to him, the restoration of the church cost $ 150.000.


Turkey’s Protestants complain of state discrimination

Turkey discriminates against its Protestant community and fails to take action against hate speech targeting Christians, according to a report released by a church association Wednesday.

The Association of Protestant Churches report said one problem was public perception in the predominantly Muslim but secular country that "missionaries constitute a grave national threat and must be opposed."

"The Protestant community has been labeled as 'missionaries' and has, as a result, borne the brunt of being stigmatized and denounced over the last 20 years," said the group, which says it represents 85 percent of the 100 parishes in Turkey.

The report charged that Turkish media often portrayed Protestants as "illegitimate" and turned them into a "hate object," especially by targeting missionary activities.

"It is no coincidence that physical attacks against Protestants almost always follow negative news stories about Protestants in the media. Virtually none of these incendiary broadcasts targeting Protestants has resulted in the prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the broadcast," it said.

The association charged that missionary activities were also stigmatized in school textbooks and underlined that religious classes taught at school that focused mainly on Islam posed further problems. "To obtain exemption for their children, [Protestant] families are forced to tell what religion they are.

"Further, the children are put on display and, because they belong to a different religion, may encounter exclusion, derision and insults from friends and even from some teachers," it said.

Other grievances raised in the report include "restrictive decisions" by officials and "inadequate regulations" on the use of places of worship, restrictions on public employment and obstacles to training pastors.

The Protestant community says it has a congregation of between 3,000 and 3,500. Many of them are Muslim converts. In a 2007 attack that shocked the nation, three Protestants — a German and two Turkish converts — were murdered at a Christian publishing house in the eastern city of Malatya after they were tortured for hours.

Their murder followed the 2006 killing of a Catholic priest in the northern city of Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. "Security problems have decreased significantly as a result of security measures" taken after the killings, the report said.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Can you open a church in Turkey?

Until amendments were made to the Zoning Law in 2003, it was highly debatable whether a place of worship other than a mosque could be opened or what the relevant practices and procedures to do this might be.

The relevant article of Zoning Law No. 3194 used to read as follows:

“In the development of zoning plans, the required places for mosques shall be designated, taking into account the conditions of the planned districts and regions and their future needs. Provided that the permission of the mufti is obtained and the zoning legislation is respected, mosques can be built in provinces, sub-provinces and towns. Places for mosques cannot be allocated for other purposes in violation of the zoning legislation.”

However, where it involves non-Muslims, what the law provides for, implementation takes away. This practice has been put to use in the case of regulations concerning places of worship. The zoning law amendment cited above has been rendered non-functional through the Implementation Guidelines.

Though the legal code permits it, for a variety of reasons, non-Muslims who want to open a place of worship face major obstacles. It is impossible for a church with a congregation of 30-40 persons to purchase a lot that is 2,500 meters squared and build a building on it. Further, the condition that permission be obtained from civilian authorities, because it does not include explicit criteria, is a regulation subject to arbitrary responses. In practice, municipalities have rejected requests that space be allocated and a multiplicity of bureaucratic obstructions have been encountered. Subsequent to the adoption of the amendments to the Zoning Law, dozens of applications have been submitted and denied; only a handful of applications have been successful. In theory it is possible for non-Muslims to have places of worship. In reality, this problem remains unsolved.

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