Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Turkish police search theology professors' homes in murder probe

Police searched the homes of a handful of Turkish theology professors on Wednesday in connection with a probe into the 2007 murder of three Christian missionaries, Turkish media reported.

Police raided the Istanbul apartment of Zekeriya Beyaz, a well- known theologian who had written an unpublished manuscript on the political activities of certain religious movements in Turkey, along with the homes and offices of at least four professors in other provinces.

Wednesday's raids came just a week after police searched the offices of a publishing house and the mainstream newspaper Radikal, confiscating copies of an unpublished manuscript, 'The Army of the Imam.'

The book, which prosecutors said was a document of interest in the Ergenekon investigation, alleges infiltration of the police force by Gulenists, members of a controversial Islamist group.

Its author, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, is one of nearly 10 journalists and writers who have been arrested in the Ergenekon case within the last two months.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day of prayer marks martyrdom of Christians in Turkey Read more: Day of prayer marks martyrdom of Christians in Turkey

April 18 has been designated by an alliance of Christian groups as International Pray for Turkey Day in remembrance of three Christian missionaries who had agreed to meet with a group of Muslims as part of their ministry there and were slaughtered for their willingness to discuss Christianity.

A Christian film company, the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey, and a Christian human rights group chose that day because it's the fourth anniversary of the murder of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German missionary Tilman Geske – apparently by five Muslim Turkish nationalists in Malatya.

Read more: Day of prayer marks martyrdom of Christians in Turkey

Monday, March 28, 2011

Zirve victim’s widow: Massacre’s codes in Ergenekon, Cage

The widow of German national Tilman Geske, who was brutally killed along with two colleagues at a Christian publishing house in Malatya in 2007 at the hands of young ultranationalists, has said her husband's murder was part of a greater plan to provoke chaos in society and increase pressure on the government, as mentioned in the plans of Ergenekon and those who devised the Cage plan.

“We had known that the Zirve massacre was not the individual work of the suspects mentioned. It is understood it was carried out to put the government in a tight spot. The Cage plan clearly exposes everything. The aim of the massacre is mentioned there,” Suzanna Geske told Today’s Zaman.

The Malatya murders are thought to be a part of the Cage Action Plan, a subversive plot allegedly devised by military officers that sought to undermine the government through the assassination of non-Muslims and other acts of terror. The Cage plan was allegedly drawn up at the order of Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network charged with plotting to overthrow the democratically elected government by creating large-scale chaos in the country.

According to Geske, shedding light on the Malatya massacre will be a turning point for Turkey. She thinks the revelation of the actual perpetrators of the murders will contribute a lot to Turkish democracy. “I love my country [Turkey.] My husband was killed but solving this case is more important for my country than for myself,” she added.

The link between the missionary murders and Ergenekon has long been suspected and the ongoing case in the Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court is expected to be merged with the ongoing Ergenekon case once the prosecutor’s investigation into the instigators of the Zirve murders is completed.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More suspects arrested today in 2007 murder of three Christians in Turkey

According to Associated Press, World Bulletin, and other sources, the Turkish government today arrested seven suspects for plotting and inciting the murder of three Christians in 2007. The victims had distributed Christian literature in a country that is only 1% Christian. The men, Necati Aydun, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Ekkehart Geske (a German national), were killed at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya. At the time, five young men were arrested at the crime scene, yet their trial is still ongoing.

Those arrested include five military officers and two civilians. The government claims that these suspects, as well as others that have been recently arrested, were part of a coup plot begun in 2003. As part of this plot, the predominantly military suspects are thought to have incited and helped in the murders of various minorities to help create chaos and destabilize the present government. There has always been tension between the secular military and the Islamic-based government, headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who came to power in 2002. The plot and investigation is called Ergenekon. The evidence used for the arrests varies according to the reports, it coming from a 2008 audio cd provided by a secret witness or a letter provided by a whistle-blower.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Christians in Turkey Face Harassment; Murder Trial Stalls

Though the horrific scale of the 2007 Malatya murders has not been repeated in Turkey’s Protestant church, a recent report shows harassment continues to be a daily problem for the country’s Christians and churches.

Discrimination, slander and attacks against churches were among the examples of ongoing harassment that the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches (TEK) recorded in 2010.

In an eight-page report published earlier this year, TEK’s Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs outlined problems Protestants face. Turkish laws and “negative attitudes of civil servants” continue to make it nearly impossible for non-Muslims to establish places of worship, the committee reported. Three churches faced legal problems last year regarding their buildings, according to the report.

Missionary activities are still considered a national threat despite the existence of Turkish laws guaranteeing citizens the freedom to propagate and teach their faith, and children are victims of discrimination at school, according to the report. Though the Religious Education General Directorate for Higher Education and Training Committee allows non-Muslim students to stay out of religious classes, parents have reported cases in which they were not able to take their children out of such courses.

“After four years [since the Malatya murders], Turkey’s religious freedoms have not improved as desired,” said attorney Erdal Dogan. “Christians, Alevis [a Shiite sub-community] and people of other beliefs are still not protected by law. And people of other faiths apart from Muslims have no legal status. Since racism is still prevalent in the context of freedom, discrimination in its turn has become a fact of life.”

About a third of Turks are estimated to be Alevis.

Turkey rose to 30th place in Open Doors’ 2011 World Watch List of nations in which persecution against Christians takes place, up from 35th place the previous year. The Christian support organization cited deteriorating conditions as the secular country applied some laws in discriminatory ways against Christians.


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Turkish Protestants still face 'long path' to religious freedom

A senior Turkish Protestant has said his country's small Christian churches still face severe hardships, despite recent pledges by the government to improve protection of religious rights - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.

"We can't deny certain positive steps - since 2005, we've been able to apply for legal status as registered associations," said Zekai Tanyar, executive board chairman of Turkey's Association of Protestant Churches.

"But full religious freedom is still a long way off here, and all Christian denominations face difficulties. Government officials assure us they'll look into our problems, such as by offering us police protection. But no attempt is being made to present us in a more positive light."

The 58-year-old Protestant official was speaking after publication in early February of a letter to the Turkish government by Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner, which welcomed a "constructive dialogue" now underway on religious rights, but also highlighted continuing restrictions.

In an ENI interview, Tanyar said Protestants differed from Turkey's Armenian and Greek Orthodox Christians, since most came from recent Muslim Turkish backgrounds, rather than from ethnic minorities, and did not have historic claims to churches and properties in the country.

However, he added that, despite being ethnic Turks, they were viewed as "not belonging," and as "collaborators with the forces of Christendom which are out to break up the country." All Turkish governments had sought to avoid any impression of "compromising with Christians," Tanyar said.

"The dialogue occurring is a polite, diplomatic process, which hasn't so far achieved anything very concrete - mentalities haven't changed and the same age-old prejudices live on," said Tanyar, whose association includes about 4,000 members in 33 churches.

Turkey has been negotiating accession to the EU since 2005, but has faced opposition to its membership bid because of a lack of internal reforms, as well as persistent complaints from ethnic and religious minorities about being denied equal rights and protections in the country, most of whose 71.5 million inhabitants are Sunni Muslims.

In his letter to Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hammarberg said he welcomed recent government efforts to act against publications inciting hatred and hostility towards non-Muslims, and to comply with judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.

However, he added that "outstanding issues" remained to be tackled, including restrictions on training Christian clergy, and a lack of "objectivity and pluralism" in religious education that respected the rights of non-Muslim parents.

In an official reply, Turkey's EU ambassador, Daryal Batibay, said religious freedom had seen "positive developments," adding that his government had established "direct dialogue" with several Christian denominations, and was reviewing religious education and the insertion of religious affiliations on Turkish identity cards, which has been ruled a violation of rights by the European Court.

However, in the interview with ENI, Tanyar said the inclusion of a "religion box" on IDs still caused difficulties for Christians, adding that six Protestant pastors were currently under police protection after death threats.

The association chairman said Protestants were now receiving responses when they complained about the contents of schoolbooks, but added that the education directors had refused to remove a passage from one textbook for 12-year-olds, which branded Christian missionaries a "major danger to the country."

"The authorities know Turkey has to provide religious freedom as a democracy - but they don't like it," Tanyar told ENI. "We are much more proactive than other Christian groups in looking after our rights, and people are generally less fearful and more hopeful about the future. But government ministers know they will lose support if they show the slightest co-operation with Christian churches."

Among recent gestures, Erdogan ordered local authorities last May to "uphold the rights of the Christian and Jewish minorities" and "behave with respect towards their clergy," while the government returned several early medieval churches to Orthodox Christians and promised Turkish citizenship rights to Orthodox metropolitans serving with the Istanbul-based Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Anti-terror police foil alleged plot to kill Christian cleric in Istanbul

Istanbul police’s anti-terror unit apprehended two suspects accused of plotting to assassinate a priest in the city’s Fatih district, Doğan news agency, or DHA, reported Saturday.

Law enforcement officers alleged that a suspect who was identified only as E.T., and who was reported to be under 18 years of age, offered 18-year-old Okan G. 50 Turkish Liras to kill the unnamed priest.

Police raided the suspects’ homes in Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpaşa district and detained the pair, seizing two guns in the process. Officers later revealed that one of the guns could be altered to shoot metal balls.

The suspects were later taken for questioning at the Istanbul Police Department on Vatan Avenue in the Fatih district.


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Right To Have Places Of Worship – A Trapped Right

The right to establish, own, and maintain places of worship is a fundamental part of the right to freedom of religion or belief. This is very clear in the international human rights standards – such as Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. Yet religious communities in Turkey face serious obstacles – both formal and informal – preventing them from enjoying this right effectively, Forum 18 News Service notes. For example, only the Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, can open mosques and administer them.

These obstacles are in addition to the fundamental problem that no community – whether Muslim, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witness, or any other – has any legal status in Turkish law. This leads to situations such as communities being unable to legally prove they own buildings they pay property tax on.