Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ancient Antioch still home to many Christians

High above the modern Turkish city of Antakya (Antioch) lays a relic of a former age. The Church of St Peter, now a pilgrimage site with a clear trail marking the way, was once a hidden centre of early Christian worship.

Composed of just a one-room cave about 13 meters wide, this sanctuary was crucial to developments in the history of Near Eastern Christianity, and is old enough to be mentioned in the Bible itself. It is here, according to legend, that followers of the newly emerging religion first called themselves Christians.

Though the church now serves as a heritage site and museum operated by the Turkish state, a hike down the mountain and into the city below leads visitors to a number of churches that have active congregations and daily services.

Official studies of the population of Turkey estimate the number of non-Muslim citizens to be less than .02%. In this corner of the country, however, the religious and ethnic diversity is much higher and, significantly, religious conflict nearly absent.

"There are no problems here," the head priest of the Catholic Church of Antioch, Domineco Bertogli, explains. "We live openly, we worship openly."

Indeed, the Italian priest's church is located next-door to a large mosque, and prominent plaques point the way.

Adalet, a young woman who works in the church with Bertogli, grew up in Antakya and takes pride in the city's level of tolerance and multiculturalism. She points to a poster hanging on a bulletin board that also displays church announcements and service hours.

Antakya is the largest city in the province of Hatay, and, like many urban areas, has developed as a centre of diversity. Farther away from the city, however, active Christian communities still prosper.

Near the Syrian border in the Altinozu district, two almost exclusively Christian villages remain, Sarilar and Tokacli. Villagers are nearly all Orthodox, with perhaps a handful of Catholic families.

Emin Mizikacioglu, an Orthodox Christian who runs a small market in Sarilar, expresses a mixture of tolerance and pride regarding religious differences.

"We live together like brothers, all of us," he says, then breaking off his sentence to tease the Muslim bus driver about how slowly the vehicle is moving.

A few minutes later, when Sarilar becomes visible over a ridge in the hilly landscape, he softens his voice and says with some excitement, "This is my village. You won't find a single Muslim family here. Not even one."

This dual perspective -- that Muslims and Christians and Jews are all siblings, but that a Christian village is still something to be treasured -- may be part of what enables these varied communities to maintain their own identities while engaging peacefully and productively with other groups.

Bertogli, perhaps drawing on his experiences while working elsewhere in Turkey, emphasises that while Antakya and its environs may truly be cities of peace, they are not necessarily indicative of the situation elsewhere.

"There isn't just one Turkey," he says. "There are many Turkeys."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Searching for Lost Armenian Churches and Schools in Turkey

Armenian Churches in Turkey before 1915

From The Armenian Weekly

On July 21, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee overwhelmingly adopted the Berman-Cicilline Amendment based upon the Return of Churches resolution spearheaded by Representatives Ed Royce and Howard Berman, with a vote of 43 to 1, calling on Turkey to return stolen Armenian and other Christian churches, and to end the repression of its Christian minorities.

Where are these lost or stolen Armenian churches in Turkey? How many were there before 1915, the turning point in the Armenians' world, when they were uprooted and wiped out from their homeland of more than 3,000 years? How many churches are there now? Considering that every Armenian community invariably strove to build a school beside its church, how many Armenian schools were there in Turkey before 1915, and how many are there now? How many Armenian churches and schools are left standing now in Turkey is the easier part of the issue: There are only 34 churches and 18 schools left in Turkey today, mostly in Istanbul, with about less than 3,000 students in these schools. The challenging and frustrating issue is how many were there in the past.

Recent research pegs the number of Armenian churches in Turkey before 1915 at around 2,300. The number of schools before 1915 is estimated at nearly 700, with 82,000 students. These numbers are only for churches and schools under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and the Apostolic Church, and therefore do not include the numerous churches and schools belonging to the Protestant and Catholic Armenian parishes. The American colleges and missionary schools, mostly attended by Armenian youth, are also excluded from these numbers. The number of Armenian students attending Turkish schools or small schools at homes in the villages are unknown and not included. Finally, these numbers do not include the churches and schools in Kars and Ardahan provinces, which were not part of Turkey until 1920, and were part of Russia since 1878.

The two maps show the wide distribution of Armenian churches and schools in Turkey before 1915. The two lists for the Armenian churches and schools are by no means complete, but should be regarded as a preliminary study that can serve as foundation for further research. The place names are based on the old Ottoman administrative system, instead of that of modern Turkey. They are ably assembled by Zakarya Mildanoglu, from various sources such as the Ottoman Armenian National Council Annual reports, Echmiadzin Journal, Vienna Mkhitarists, and studies by Teotig, Kevorkian, and Nishanyan.

Lost Churches
Adana: Center and villages, Yureghir, Ceyhan, Tarsus, Silifke, Yumurtalik, Dortyol, Iskenderun, 25 churches

Amasya: Vezirkopru, Mecitozu, Merzifon, Havza, Gumushacikoy, Ladik, 15 churches

Ankara: Center, Haymana, Sincan, 5 churches

Antakya: Center, Samandagh, 7 churches

Antep: Center, Nizip, Halfeti, 4 churches

Arapkir (Malatya): Arapkir and Kemaliye villages, 19 churches

Arganimadeni (Elazig): Erganis, Siverek, Bulanik, Kahta, 10 churches

Armash (Akmeshe): 2 churches

Artvin: Center and villages, 11 churches

Balikesir: Balikesir, Mustafakemalpasha, Biga, Bandirma, 6 churches

Bayburt: Bayburt center and villages, 34 churches

Beshiri (Diyarbakir): Beshiri and villages, 14 churches

Bilecik (Bursa): Golpazar, 4 churches

Bingol (Genc): Center and villages, 11 churches

Bitlis: Center and villages, 30 churches

Bitlis: Tatvan, Ahlat, Mutki, Hizan, 66 churches

Bolu: Duzce, Akyazi, 5 churches

Bursa: Center, Orhangazi, 11 churches

Charsancak ( Tunceli): Mazgirt, pertek, Pulumur, Hozat, and villages, 93 churches

Chemishgezek (Tunceli): 20 churches

Chungush (Diyarbakir): Chungush center and villages, 2 churches

Dersim: Hozat, Pertek, 28 churches

Divrigi (Sivas): Center and villages, 25 churches

Diyadin (Erzurum): Diyadin and villages, 4 churches

Diyarbakir: Center and villages, 11 churches

Edirne: Center and villages, 4 churches

Egin (Erzincan): Kemaliye, Ilic, and villages, 17 churches

Egin: 3 churches

Eleshkirt (Erzurum): Eleshkirt and villages, 6 churches

Ergani: Ergani and villages, 11 churches

Erzincan: Erzincan center and villages, 52 churches

Erzurum: Center, Aziziye, Yakutiye, Ashkale, Narman, Ispir, Oltu, Shenkaya, Horasan, Pazaryolu, and villages, 65 churches ...
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CBS: Turkey to return confiscated property

(AP) ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's government is returning hundreds of properties confiscated from the country's Christian and Jewish minorities over the past 75 years in a gesture to religious groups who complain of discrimination that is also likely to thwart possible court rulings against the country.

A government decree published Saturday returns assets that once belonged to Greek, Armenian or Jewish trusts and makes provisions for the government to pay compensation for any confiscated property that has since been sold on.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was scheduled to announce the decision formally later Sunday when he hosts religious leaders and the heads of about 160 minority trusts, at a fast-breaking dinner for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, officials said.

The properties include former hospital, orphanage or school buildings and cemeteries. Their return is a key European Union demand and a series of court cases has also been filed against primarily Muslim Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights. Last year, the court ordered Turkey to return an orphanage to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. ...
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Friday, August 26, 2011

WikiLeaks: Israeli envoy to Turkey says Erdogan ‘hates us religiously’

An Israeli ambassador described Turkey’s prime minister as a “fundamentalist” who hates the Jewish state on religious grounds, according a U.S. diplomatic cable recently released.

The confidential October 2009 cable cites the musings of Gabby Levy, Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, on why Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had turned on Turkey’s longtime ally.

“Levy dismissed political calculation as a motivator for Erdogan’s hostility, arguing the prime minister’s party had not gained a single point in the polls from his bashing of Israel,” says the cable, which was sent by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

“Instead, Levy attributed Erdogan’s harshness to deep-seated emotion: ‘He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously’ and his hatred is spreading,” according to the cable.

Changes in school religious education fail to resolve fundamental problems

Children across Turkey are preparing to return to school on 19 September. For the first time, the official textbooks for use in all but the few ethnic minority schools for non-Muslims will include not only teaching of Sunni Islam, but also on Alevi and Caferi traditions, both widely shared movements within Islam in Turkey. The Education Ministry's General Directorate of Religious Education confirmed that the textbooks for the compulsory Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics (RCKE) lessons have been amended to include additions agreed with representatives of these two communities, though the textbooks are not yet publicly available to verify this.

Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics classes, for between one and two hours a week, are compulsory in almost all primary and secondary schools. Lessons have up till now been heavily based on the Sunni branch of Islam, and the textbooks are prepared and published by the Education Ministry.

RCKE classes have not always been compulsory in Turkey. Because the military leadership of 1980 saw the value of a certain form of "restrained religion" as a unifying factor for the nation and as a preventative tool against what it considered marginal movements, a provision was inserted into Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution making RCKE classes compulsory in primary and secondary education. The same provision goes on to say that "education and instruction in religion and ethics shall be conducted under state supervision and control", explicitly demonstrating the state's strong interest in imposing its control.

The Chair of the Association of Protestant Churches, Zekai Tanyar, thinks it is unrealistic to expect that there will be no religion classes in Turkey. He views the current practice as the teaching of a certain denomination within Islam, and hence students should have the possibility of exemption. The important thing, as he sees it, is the consequence of the RCKE lessons: because of the narrow focus of the content, students are raised with a narrow view of religion and tend to see members of other religions or traditions as "the other".

Ricciardone Revises Response to Senate Inquiry on Number of Churches in Turkey

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, responding to a wave of grassroots outrage and growing Congressional concern, backed away from his most obvious and offensive misrepresentations about Turkey’s destruction of Christian churches, but sparked renewed controversy by artificially inflating the number of currently operating Christian houses of worship, and again using strained euphemisms to help Ankara escape responsibility for its crimes, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Following broad-based concerns expressed by Armenian-American community and religious leaders, Ricciardone amended his earlier response to Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Robert Menendez (D-NJ), in which he had argued, without any basis in fact, that a majority of Christian churches operating in the territory of present-day Turkey prior to 1915 were still functioning today.

In a correction obtained by the ANCA on August 22, Ricciardone took the “opportunity to clarify the record,” suggesting that of the 2,000 churches there before 1915, they are not all still functioning. He said, “The corrected text should read as follows: Most of the Christian churches functioning prior to 1915 are no longer operating as churches. Christian community contacts in Turkey report that a total of 200-250 churches that date to 1915 and before offer Christian worship services at least once a year. Many churches do not offer services every week due to insufficient clergy or local Christian populations. Some churches of significance operate as museums, others have been converted into mosques or put to other uses. Still others have fallen into disrepair or may have been totally destroyed.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Safeguarding Christian Heritage in Modern Day Turkey

Although Turkey is a secular state, there have been continued reports of discrimination and abuse based on religious belief or practice, as well as routine confiscation of Christian properties through discriminatory laws. The 2007 International Religious Freedom Report stated that religious minorities in Turkey are denied positions in governmental institutions because of their religious beliefs. In fact, Turkey has been on the International Religious Freedom “Watch List” for three consecutive years because of discrimination and abuse based on religion.

As proof of its religious tolerance, the Turkish government brags that it has restored the historic Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island. However, instead of returning the holy site to the Armenian community and allowing religious services, the church was turned into a secular museum where services can only be held once a year, and only by permission of the Turkish Government. In fact, just last year, a group of children who wished to offer a prayer at Holy Cross were forced out by Turkish police. Today, this historic church, which was once the seat of an Armenian Catholicosate from the 12th to 19th centuries, and what is often depicted as a symbol of Armenian Christianity in Western Armenia, is reduced to a mere tourist attraction.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swimsuits, Gays, and Christians: Survey Sheds Light on Values, Trends in Turkey

A recent survey in Turkey highlighted a decrease in people’s confidence in the Turkish Armed Forces, an increased trust in the government, and revealed intolerance towards ethnic, sexual, and other minorities.

Only 15 percent of respondents agreed that “there is great regard and respect towards human rights in our country,” while 16 percent believed that there is no respect for human rights in Turkey.

However, the more discussed revelation was the low level of tolerance Turks have towards certain groups and people. Topping the list of those deemed intolerable were gays and lesbians (with 84 percent of respondents saying they do not desire a gay or lesbian neighbor), followed by individuals infected with AIDS (74 percent), couples living together out of wedlock (68 percent), atheists (64 percent), proponents of Sharia (54 percent), Christians (48 percent), followers of other faiths (39 percent), immigrants and foreign workers (39 percent), women who wear shorts (26 percent), those who do not fast (20 percent), and those voting for a competing political party (17 percent).

The percentage of interviewees who said religion is important to them was around 92 percent, a reality that has not changed in 15 years. Eighty-one percent considered themselves devout; 87 percent said they fast; 61 percent thought it a sin for women to wear bathing suits; 79 percent believed theirs is the one true religion; and 85 percent said they believe in creationism, not evolution.

The survey also revealed that the level of trust Turks have towards others—including family and friends— was low. Only 15 percent said they trusted others, while 61 percent said they do not trust people from other nationalities.

The survey underscored significant gender issues in Turkey: 30 percent of those surveyed said some women deserved to be beaten by their husbands—and 27 percent of women agreed—which is a stark increase from 19 percent in 1996. The survey also showed that men were deemed better politicians than women (71 percent agreed), that males were fit to head the family unit (74 percent), women ought to obey their husbands (62 percent), and men can have more than one wife (23 percent).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ani looks for inclusion on World Heritage List

The spectacular ruins of Ani, the capital of an ancient Armenian kingdom and important city on the Silk Road, could soon be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, according to local authorities.

Turkey: Christian Monastery Fights for Muslim Tenants

In 1972, Yorgo Güller, a Greek Christian from Istanbul, visited leafy Burgazada, one of the Princes’ Islands just off the city’s coast, looking for love. Almost forty years later, he is still there tending to a neglected, 18th century Greek monastery.

Summer homes still line the vegetable garden of Aya Yorgi Garibi, which some believe translates as “Saint George the Destitute.” But the only year-round tenants are Güller, his Muslim wife, and 48 families of Alevi Shi’a Muslims, Turkey’s largest religious minority.

The tolerance at Yorgi Garibi recalls the days of cosmopolitan Constantinople, when Greeks numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But a land dispute dating to the expulsions of Greeks in the 20th century threatens that easiness. In an ironic twist, the Turkish government is now telling the low-income Muslim families to leave.

Fast forward to a more peaceful time. Güller is Aya Yorgi’s caretaker. Inspired by churches he had seen on a boat trip around the Greek islands, Güller gave the monastery’s faded green and yellow façade a new coat of paint. “Blue like the sky and white like innocence,” he said of the choice. “An Armenian friend of mine donated the paint. And then a Turkish friend and me painted the walls ourselves, tying ladders on top of each other because we didn’t have the money or the authorization for scaffolding.”

Greek families on the island asked him not to paint the church blue and white, the colors of the Greek flag, afraid Turkish authorities might see it as a provocation. To the neighbors’ surprise, the authorities were delighted. The local mayor voiced his approval, as did the commander of the nearby naval officers’ high school.

Because the Patriarchate does not send a priest to Aya Yorgi, Güller has installed loudspeakers around the chapel. Every Sunday morning at 6 a.m., he tunes in to a religious radio station in Greece to listen to a service. “The liturgies read in Istanbul churches are not as beautiful as I remember them being as a child,” Güller said. “Many of the priests just don’t care anymore because the congregations are so small now.”

Poignantly, today it is not the Greeks facing expulsion from this multicultural stronghold, but the Alevi families. A priest in the 1970s invited the Alevis – originally migrant workers – to stay as thanks for helping him take care of the facilities. Though the acres they tend outside Aya Yorgi’s walls have belonged to monastery since 1884, when a wealthy Greek family donated them, disputed regulations dictate that land Greeks left behind must be ceded to local authorities. A Turkish foundation now lays claims to the property.

Until the 2000s, when real estate prices boomed on the Princes’ Islands, no one had sought ownership. But in 2010, a court awarded the property to the foundation.

Though Aya Yorgi itself is not threatened, Güller says its way of life is and vows to fight for the monastery’s Muslim friends.

“Aya Yorgi Garibi has always been a shelter for the destitute,” Güller, who has led an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights over the evictions, enthused. “This is blatant injustice. … And with God’s help, everybody will be able to stay.”

Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction | Video on

Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction | Video on

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hundreds of Orthodox pilgrims gather for second service at Sümela Monastery

Nearly 1,000 Orthodox Christians gathered for a historic service at Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon early Monday, marking the second religious ceremony held at the monastery in the history of the Turkish Republic.

The Divine Liturgy, held on the occasion of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos according to the Orthodox liturgical calendar (also known as the Assumption of Mary), was officiated by İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I. Pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Georgia and other countries traveled to the monastery, which currently serves as a museum. Around 500 pilgrims were admitted to the monastery during the service, and the remaining participants watched the event from large screens set up outside Sümela.

Beginning the homily by saying “Our Muslim brothers,” Bartholomew thanked the Turkish government, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for allowing a second service at Sümela. Stating that Mary has a special place for both Muslims and Christians, he recalled a Quran verse which says: “And (remember) when the angels said: ‘O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah has chosen you, purified you (from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you above the women of the ‘Alamin' (mankind and jinns) (of her lifetime),” the patriarch called for peace and brotherhood in Turkey and in the world during his speech.

“The peace that we long for is vital, in particular during these days. We cannot rid ourselves of the burden of the tragic events in Norway yet. There is ongoing bloodshed in neighboring countries. Mothers are crying in our country. … Let's make a call from the high Sümela Mountain, from the presence of the feet of the Virgin Mary -- who is above all women -- to all Christians and Muslims for us, for humanity and for our future. This call can be a single word: peace, peace, peace. Mutual respect and love should be our only prayer,” the patriarch said.

Bartholomew also wished Muslim a happy Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. “May God accept your fasts,” he added.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Trouble with Turkey

Thomas Bruning, the general secretrary of the Netherlands Union of Journalists (NVJ), is rather pessimististic about press freedom in Turkey. In March alone, eight journalists were arrested in Turkey. Two prominent investigative journalists, namely Ahmed Sik and Nedim Sener, were among them. Some 60 Turkish journalists are in prison now, just because of what they wrote or on fake charges. "In view of the persecution and intimidation of journalists and the lack of transparency questions can be raised about the state of Turkish democracy," Bruning wrote in April (2011). "In a country that calls itself democratic and wants to join the European Union, free reporting is essential. Press freedom is democracy's greatest good."

Since Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan came to power in 2002 Turkey gradually moved away from its traditional secularism. Turkey's new rulers belong to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which initially presented itself as a moderate and pro-Western Muslim party – even though it was unprecedented for prime minister of Turkey to have a veiled wife. Emine Erdogan is a woman who proudly wears the Islamic headscarf calling on other women to follow her example. The AKP no longer is as moderate as it initially claimed to be. It was under Erdogan that Turkey opened a new page with Iran and its Muslim fundamentalist dictators who deny the Holocaust. Nationals from neighboring Muslim countries (notably Iran, Iraq and Syria) no longer need a visa to enter Turkey. Erdogan's new enemy now is Israel, pro-Iranian Hamas and Hezbollah, though, are seen as new allies. As the "Jerusalem Post" noted recently, "Erdogan's anti-Israel rhetoric cannot be seen in isolation from his oppressive policies at home and his pursuit of Islamist allies."


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Annihilation of Civilizations

By the time Mohammed died in 632 AD, Islam had used persuasion and jihad to subjugate Arabia. The annihilation of native Arabic culture is Sunna, the perfect example for all times and all Muslims. Said another way, the political theory of Islam is annihilation of Kafir civilization. How well did this political theory work out in history? Is this theory of annihilation at work today?

We have records of Mohammed’s last jihad against the Christians north of Arabia. After he died, Umar, the second caliph, took Mohammed’s jihad against the Christians and developed it into a war that conquered half of the Christian world. But this conquest was only the beginning of the political transformation. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian Kafirs became dhimmis. But Umar was not able to conquer Anatolia, the site known today as Turkey. For centuries, Islam attacked Anatolia and finally took Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, Turkey.

Take a look at the demographic history of the annihilation of the Greek Christian civilization:

This demographic growth chart of Islam has many things to teach us. The first is that the process of annihilation took centuries. Some people think that when Islam invaded, the Kafirs (non-Muslims) had the choice of conversion or death. No, absolutely not. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian dhimmis continued to have their “protected” status as People of the Book who lived under the Sharia law. The dhimmi paid heavy taxes, could not testify in court, hold a position of authority over Muslims and was humiliated by social rules. A dhimmi had to step aside for the Muslim, offer him his seat, could not carry a weapon and defer to a Muslim in every way. In all matters of society the dhimmi had to yield to the Muslim. Over the centuries, the degradation, lack of rights and the dhimmi tax caused the Christian to convert. It is the Sharia that destroys the dhimmis.

Notice where the curve is headed—100% Islam, just like Arabia. Today, Turkey is 99.7% Muslim. The Christian and Greek civilization of Anatolia is gone. It is annihilated.

What is tragic is that it seems that no one knows or cares. The Fethullah Gülen Movement (Turkish Muslim Brotherhood) of today pays for Christian ministers to go to Turkey and see an Islamic tolerant country where Christians live in beautiful harmony with Islam. And the ministers come back talking about what a wonderful society Turkey is and how well Christians are treated. After all, 0.3% of the Christians are still there in wonderful Turkey.

Today we see another approach to dealing with the Islam of annihilation. We ignore the history of annihilation and say that all we need to do is love Muslims and we will live in harmony, a wonderful multicultural civilization. A history of 1400 years without a single exception to the rule of annihilation and we will repeal it with a smile and a hug. All you need is love; love is all you need; all you need is love; love is all you need. Repeat that again and again, it will make a doctrine and history of annihilation go away. Actually, the way it works is that the history is never known. It is a cliché to say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. It is a cliché but it is true. We have our foot on the path to annihilation today because we refuse to know history.

What is the lesson? Islam, peaceful Islam, is about destruction of all Kafir civilization. Only if the Kafirs realize the goal of Islam is annihilation of their culture, can the destruction be stopped. Islam is at war with Kafirs, and Kafirs are trying to “nice” their way out of destruction. Islam is at war, we are at nice. Mohammed has a dream that is coming true while we sleep.
A contrast to the previous article, this would list the reason as tolerance is because the majority is winning.

Turkey keeps religious restrictions, hostilities in check

Turkey is one of the few countries where government-imposed religious restrictions and social hostilities involving religion have declined since mid-2008, while a striking 32 percent of the rest the world population faced an increase in both areas, according to the recently announced results of a three-year study, “Rising Restrictions on Religion,” conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The findings of the study, which focused on religious restrictions in 198 countries over a three-year period, showed that government restrictions and social hostilities with regards to people's religious beliefs have increased in many countries, decreasing substantially in only a few, amounting to a mere 1 percent of the global population. The study listed Turkey among the countries with “high level” government restrictions and social hostilities, ranking 19th in government restrictions and 24th in social hostilities stemming from religion, at the same time revealing that the country has nevertheless improved its performance in both areas by a small margin.
In my opinion, this has to do more with the level of government control and the serious level at which crime is prosecuted than any other factor.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

1,700-year-old church unearthed in Turkey's Mugla

A 1,700-year-old church has been unearthed in Stratonikeia Ancient City in Yatagan town of Aegean province of Mugla.
Associate Prof. Bilal Sogut, head of Stratonikeia Ancient City excavation team, said Tuesday that significant progress was recorded in archaeologic excavations, researches, preservation and restoration works during the excavations that had been carried out since 2008.
"The church is an important one in the region. Some parts of the church were destroyed. We will restore the damaged parts and open it to public visit," he said.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Turkish model: A hard act to follow

PALE, bespectacled and polite, Bekir Berat Ozipek, a young professor at Istanbul’s Commerce University, is no street-fighter. But he was excited by the heady atmosphere he experienced on a recent trip to Egypt. He and two fellow Turkish scholars went to a conference at the University of Cairo where their ideas on civil-military relations were keenly gobbled up.

Then late one night, on the eve of a big protest, they went to Tahrir Square, the heart of Egypt’s uprising. They loved what they found: young people directing traffic, exuberant songs and slogans, a joker imitating ex-President Hosni Mubarak. Then they dived into a restaurant, where their chat about Egypt’s political system was joined by youngsters at the next table, as well as the waiter. Mr Ozipek thought he was living in the era of Voltaire.

A few days earlier another Turkish-Arab encounter took place. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, was winding up a visit to rebel-controlled Libya when he decided, to his minders’ alarm, to go to the central square of Benghazi, which like its Cairene counterpart is called Tahrir, or Liberation. As the crowd chanted “Erdogan, Turkey, Muslim”, he brought greetings from his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and told them: “We have a common future and a history.”

From North Africa to the Gulf, the region seems to be going through a Turkish moment. In years past Turkey’s spotty democracy was often cited to prove a negative: the Turkish case (along with Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s, also with reservations) showed that Islam did not pose an insuperable barrier to multiparty democracy. But nothing much flowed from that observation—until the Arab spring. Turkey is now being studied by Arabs as a unique phenomenon: a movement of moderate Islamists, the Justice and Development (AK) party, has overseen an economic boom, boosted the country’s standing and shown that the coming to power of pious people need not mean a dramatic rupture in ties with the West.

Whatever the flaws of the Turkish experiment, it is clearly true that Turkey under the AK party presents a more benign picture than many other versions—real and hypothetical—of Islamist rule. The country has gained influence in the Middle East by keeping cordial ties with Iran and standing up for the Palestinians. But there is no suggestion that it will leave NATO or cut diplomatic links, however strained, with Israel. Life has been made easier for pious Muslims in ways that secular Turks dislike; but so far, at least, Turkey is a long way from any Iranian-style enforcement of female dress, let alone a clerical class that has the final say in all big decisions.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Turkey gives go-ahead for second service at Sümela Monastery

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism has approved a request by the İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarchate for a second service at the Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea coastal province of Trabzon in August, the Doğan news agency reported on Friday.

The ministry reportedly told the patriarchate that a religious service can be held at Sümela in the second half of August and that the date and time would be determined by the Trabzon Governor's Office.

The monastery was abandoned after the foundation of the Turkish Republic and the subsequent population exchange between Turks and Greeks. It has since become a major tourist destination along Turkey's Black Sea coast.

The Turkish government last year allowed for an annual church service to be held at the monastery in a gradual loosening of restrictions on religious expression. The government accepted the patriarchate's request to hold last year's celebration of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos on Aug. 15 at Sümela Monastery. The service at the monastery was officiated by İstanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew. Pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Georgia and other countries traveled to the monastery, which currently serves as a museum.

Around 500 pilgrims were admitted to the monastery during the service, and the remaining participants watched the event on large screens set up outside Sümela. After the completion of the service, Bartholomew offered his thanks to the Ministry of Culture for its efforts to open the monastery for an annual service. He said the opening of the doors of the monastery for the religious ceremony was an act of courtesy on the part of the Turkish government.