Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Open Air Christmas Celebration!

On Saturday, December 22nd, Protestant Christians gathered for their first ever Christmas celebration in a public square. They began by marching together down a walking street before gathering before a stage where a choir sang Christmas carols. A local pastor, Levent Kinran gave a short message about Christmas and the Chairman of the Board at Holy Scripture Information Association, Ercument Tarkan, led the group in prayer.  Several hundred Christians attended and their were no problems from the crowd that gathered.  Here is a video of the event:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Have divine question? Ask an English-speaking imam in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Fatih Municipality and Religious Affairs Office have begun a new project to teach imams (Islamic clergymen) English. The project mainly aims to enable imams to communicate with tourists visiting mosques. 

Yesterday, a test measuring English skills was given to the imams. After a written exam, the first English lesson was held. The imams had the most difficulty with the oral exam. Beyazıt Mosque’s muezzin (caller of daily prayers for Muslims), Mahir Sarıkaya, said they really needed such training. “One wants to communicate with the tourists that come around,” he said. 

Istanbul Mufti Rahmi Yaran, who also contributed to the project, called imams to use their body language along with spoken language. “In order to express yourselves, your religion and country, you need both body language and spoken language. You should place emphasis on both of them,” Yaran said, addressing the imams. 

Also, Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir said they aimed to please tourists and provide them first-hand information with the project. Demir said learning a new language was a very challenging process. “It is like cycling up a hill on a bike. If you stop, you will fall,” he said. 

Demir also said teaching English to imams would enable them to give religious sermons in English. “One of our aims is to enable [imams] to recite religious sermons in English at mosques, especially at the ones such as Sultanahmet and Yeni Camii, which attract many tourists. English sermons are recited after the ones in native languages in all over the world. I think giving English sermons in Fatih is necessary.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finally, Istanbul gives Syriac Christians a place to build: a cemetery

Three years after a Syrian Orthodox foundation applied to build a church in Istanbul, the Greater Istanbul Municipality has granted them a large plot of land and a building permit.
Banner headlines in the Turkish media praised the early-December decision as “a first in the history of the Republic,” declaring that never before had Turkey allowed a non-Muslim minority to build an official new house of worship.

Still, Syriac Christians were far from pleased.

For one thing, the land they were “granted” by the municipality is, in fact, a Latin Catholic cemetery.

“We don’t want a Syriac church on top of a cemetery!” the website stated. “This is a big scandal.”

In fact, the graveyard had been donated back in 1868 to the Italian Catholic Church in what is now Istanbul’s Yesilkoy district. It was then officially registered as Catholic property in 1936, although later confiscated in 1951 by the city.

The Council of Europe’s 2011 progress report noted that Turkey was not fully implementing Law No. 3998, which states that cemeteries belonging to minority communities can no longer be taken over by local municipalities.

According to lawyer Nail Karakas, the Latin Catholic foundation had applied to the city last summer, in accordance with the government’s August 2011 pledge to restore expropriated minority properties, to regain possession of their property and resume Christian burials in the graveyard.

So Syriac leaders are insisting that the cemetery land newly designated for their church be returned instead to its rightful owners. “It is clear that (the authorities) want to cause conflict between the minority communities,” commented Syriac layman Sabo Boyaci.

Boyaci also faulted the government for trying to exploit the Syriac community politically. “I don’t believe the government’s sincerity. They delivered this land to us in order to silence us on the matter of Mor Gabriel Monastery. The government simply aims to make a good impression on the European and Turkish public,” he told Hurriyet Daily News.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Religion questions now part of university entrance exam in Turkey

Turkish PM Erdogan had a remark this year saying that he desires a pious nation. His AKP government works tirelessly to fulfill his wish. Lastly questions pertaining to religion will be part of the university entrance exam starting in 2013.

Mayan apocalypse: Turkish village becomes latest doomsday hotspot

A Turkish village has become the latest apocalypse hotspot, with believers of the Mayan calendar prediction that the world will end on December 21 flooding into the area.

Some New Age spiritualists are convinced of a December 21 "doomsday" foretold by Mayan hieroglyphs – at least according to some interpretations.

Sirince, a village of around 600 inhabitants near the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, has a positive energy according to the doomsday cultists, who say that it is close to an area where Christians believe the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven.

The Mayan prophecy has sparked a tourism boom in the village, which is now expected to host more than 60,000 visitors according to local media.

"It is the first time we witness such an interest during the winter season," said Ilkan Gulgun, one of the hotel owners in Sirince, quoted by the media.

He said the tourists at his hotel believed that the positive energy of Sirince would save them from an apocalyptical catastrophe.

Special Warfare and Christians

There are some real life stories in Turkey that can only be narrated by masterful directors without giving you the feeling that the movie is unrealistically exaggerating them. These are stories unique to Turkey: When you tell them exactly as they are, you may create the feeling of sensation and surrealism for the people who listen to you.

They are so real, but the sense of realism can only be given by a creative artist. Let me explain to you what I mean by telling you a story. Imagine you watch this film about Turkey shot by a Turkish director: A Turkish sergeant major penetrates into the Christian community as a result of orders he received from his superiors. In a short while he is accepted by the Christian community as a member, he starts doing missionary activities across the country, distributing thousands and thousands of Bibles on the streets in shops and other places. He invited Turks to become Christians.

Meanwhile, he becomes one of the prominent figures in the community he penetrated; he even becomes a pastor and establishes his own church. However, his commanders then send him a second order saying that he has completed the first phase of his mission, and that he now needs to be a Muslim once again. But this of course needs to be done publicly.

He starts to appear on one TV channel after another, explaining that he has become enlightened, that he saw the “ugly” face of Christians and therefore became a Muslim once again. Following his dramatic appearances on TV channels, quite an intense psychological lynch campaign starts all over Turkey. And this lynch campaign is followed by physical attacks and murders.

If you watch all these in a movie on screen I am sure you would tell yourself the film exaggerated everything to a great extent. However, all these unbelievable things happened in Turkey starting from 2005 onwards.

İlker Çınar, one of the key witnesses in the Malatya massacre case, which concerned the brutal and tragic murder of three missionaries in 2007 in Malatya, revealed all this and explained in great detail how he manipulated Turkish public opinion in the past. The authenticity of his statement will be established at the end of a court trial, of course. However, we already know beyond a reasonable doubt that some of the key elements in his narrative are indisputably true. First of all, these dramatic TV appearances are something we all saw with our own eyes. And again we saw the documents in the court files showing that he was receiving salaries from the General Staff both during his missionary activities and while declaring on TV channels that he had once again become a Muslim.

Çınar said that all the orders he received reached him in sealed envelopes or by telephone. He explained extremely interesting details in his statements to the prosecutors and the court. He said that after receiving an order to appear on a TV channel, he would then receive an invitation from the said TV channel. Apparently, the commanders who give him orders for public appearances had a lot of friends in the media, at universities and in many different places. Their network was so efficient that they were able to arrange TV programs for a sergeant to appear on most popular TV channels during primetime.

I remembered all these stories once again while reading a report from the parliamentary commission investigating military coups. The report turns our attention to the Special Warfare Department, which was associated with many past atrocities before, starting with the Sept. 6-7 pogroms that targeted non-Muslims in İstanbul in 1955.

The report tells us that this department, which was established in the 1950s against the so-called Soviet invasion (as happened in many NATO countries in those years), was involved in many atrocities against civilians during this whole period of time.

One of the interesting details in this report says that the estimated numbers of civilians connected to this center is over 100,000. These people are from all walks of life, from merchants to peasants, from doctors to journalists; they are called “white forces.” This is a hidden army designed to wage civil resistance to any invasion, but apparently all these civil elements were somehow involved in the dirty work of this department.

Quite interestingly, Çınar also mentioned these so-called white forces in his statement in connection with psychological warfare against Christians. When I put all these stories and information side by side, new questions marks come to mind. Might these people who invited Çınar to speak on TV and who organized conferences for him at respected universities in Turkey and arranged all other things be somehow a part of these white forces? There are so many other questions to be asked, and I hope they will be able to answer some of them in the near future.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Turkey: Becoming a Facial Hair Hub

News on the lighter side:

Health tourism can be a hairy business anywhere, but for Turkey this is literally the case. Hair transplants have been a cornerstone of the country’s billion-dollar-plus medical-tourism market for more than a decade. But recently, a growing number of medical tourists, especially Middle Eastern men, have been traveling to Turkey specifically for facial hair implants.

“Both in Turkey and in Arab countries, facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties,” commented Dr. Selahattin Tulunay, a transplant surgeon who has a private practice in Istanbul. He estimates that up to a quarter of his monthly hair-transplant patients are Arab men from the Middle East interested in more facial hair.
“Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don’t sport facial hair,” Tulunay added.
Hair-transplant surgeon Dr. Ali Mezdegi has noticed the same trend. About 75 percent of his customers are Arabs, mostly from the Persian-Gulf countries, and many tell him they want transplants before contemplating marriage. “Thick hair is a status symbol, and a sign of strength and virility,” Dr. Medzegi explained. “Some patients want to look younger, some more manly -- both important factors in the Middle East if one looks for a new wife.”
But why is Turkey emerging as the go-to place for mustache-and-beard work?
“This trend was made possible because of our government’s excellent relationship with many Arab countries,” suggested Irfan Atik, the general manager of an Istanbul tourism agency that specializes in hair-transplant tour packages. Arabs now constitute a major share of Turkey’s tourism sector, with more than 4 million tourists from Arab countries out of a total of 30 million visitors in 2011.
Atik estimated that at least 50 Arab tourists arrive in Istanbul each day for a facial-hair transplant. Most of his own customers are from the United Arab Emirates, but some also arrive from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq. “Many of my visitors tell me how much they love [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan,” Atik said. But, he continued, so far none have asked for the so-called “almond,” the nickname for the closely cropped mustache sported by the prime minister and typically associated with supporters of his pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Turkey, the EU and Treatment of Turkish Christians

Turkey was once a Christian country.
However, from the Fall of Constantinople until now, Christians have been subjected to severe discrimination and violence. This violence reached its peak with the Armenian Genocide early in the 20th Century.
I have seen the tiny corners of society into which Christians are pushed in Turkey. I stood at the spot where the Patriarch was hung by a mob in the early 20th Century. Christians can not build churches there, and there are severe restrictions on ordination of new priests.
Turkey is a beautiful country with many wonderful people. Their hospitality is incredible. I believe that Turkey can become a great nation. But it must move past its history of discrimination and violence against Christians to do this.
An important German politician recently took the same position regarding Turkey’s admission into the European Union. Volker Kauder, chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, says that Turkey must allow Christians to build churches in Turkey before it can be admitted to the EU.
Frankly, I think that is a bare minimum. Christians in Turkey should have the same rights as all other citizens. They should be free to worship, and to witness for their faith publicly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Syriacs to build new church in Istanbul

Turkey’s Syriac community is granted land in Istanbul on which to construct its first official church in the city, but the move has become the subject of controversy after Catholics said the parcel in question legally belongs to them. Father Simonelli says they will take the issue to the court.

Turkish High Council Removes Third Prosecutor from Christian Murder Trials

A prosecutor in the case for the 19 suspects accused of inciting brutal 2007 murders of three Christians in Matalya, Turkey, has been removed from High Council duty, stalling the country's long-running trials—again.
Prosecutor Hikmet Usta was probing links between the Malatya murders of three Christians and the earlier assassination of a Christian newspaper editor when he was abruptly transferred from his position last week and re-assigned prosecution duties in an Istanbul court. Usta had been preparing objections to the verdict of the Turkish Supreme Court that "no illegal group" had been behind the January 2007 murder of Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
"There was an illegal group, and there is evidence," Usta protested to the Turkish media.
As a member of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, Usta was investigating the connections between Dink's murder and the Malatya massacre, in which two Turkish Christians and a German citizen were tortured and stabbed to death in the Zirve Christian publishing house office on April 18, 2007.
"This cannot be called a 'routine' procedure, to remove a prosecutor wanting to intensify his appeals investigation," Erdal Dogan, a plaintiff lawyer for Zirve, told Taraf newspaper on Dec. 2.
But this is not the first time prosecutors trying to uncover the real perpetrators behind the Dink and Zirve murders have been removed from their duties, notes Dogan.
In September, the Turkish Justice Ministry removed two prosecutors and two judges who had been trying the Malatya case just two days before a week of hearings on the case was to begin. The sudden changes left only the presiding judge familiar with the massive files of evidence on the murders.
The 19 suspects accused in the Zirve murders went on trial before Matalya's Third Criminal Court in early September, following the court's acceptance of a third indictment in the case in June, when allegations against primarily military officials finally went public."This indictment provides the first solid evidence that our military authorities officially assigned the named suspects to monitor and attack the Christians in Malatya," Umut Sahin from the legal committee of the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches told Open Doors News in September.
The 761-page indictment alleges that the attack by five young murderers who stabbed, tortured, and slit the throats of three Christians had been masterminded by a retired general in Turkey's 1st Army Corps and ultranationalist military officials in the Malatya gendarmerie. The gendarmerie is a law-enforcement arm of the military which has jurisdiction outside of Turkey's cities and towns.
According to the indictment, the Zirve murders were part of the so-called Cage Action Plan hatched by military officials trying to undermine the ruling Justice and Peace Party government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan through assassinations, threats, and acts of terror against Turkey's non-Muslim minorities.
But just two days before the Sept. 3 hearings began, Turkish authorities shocked the lawyers for the victims by abruptly replacing the two prosecutors, and two of the three judges, in the case, leaving only presiding judge Hayrettin Kisa familiar with the evidence in the case.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Merkel deputy criticizes Turkey over religious freedoms

A leading ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Turkey on Wednesday to show it was serious about defending religious freedoms if it wanted to join the EU, saying it should let Christians build churches without restrictions.
Volker Kauder, leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in parliament, told a party congress he expected a "clear signal" on the issue from the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan before membership talks could continue.
"A country that wants to be part of Europe must accept the basic principle of religious freedom," he said.
"That means, that we expect Christians in Turkey to be able to build churches without any restrictions, just as Muslims build mosques here in Germany," he said.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Turkey fines TV channel for airing blasphemous episode of 'The Simpsons'

Turkey's broadcasting regulator is fining a television channel for insulting religious values after it aired an episode of "The Simpsons" which shows God taking orders from the devil.

Radio and television watchdog RTUK said it was fining private broadcaster CNBC-e 52,951 lira ($30,000) over the episode of the hit U.S. animated TV series, whose scenes include the devil asking God to make him a coffee.

"The board has decided to fine the channel over these matters," an RTUK spokeswoman said but declined further comment, saying full details would probably be announced next week.

CNBC-e said it would comment once the fine was officially announced.

Turkey is a secular republic but most of its 75 million people are Muslim. Religious conservatives and secular opponents vie for public influence and critics of the government say it is trying to impose Islamic values by stealth.

Elected a decade ago with the strongest majority seen in years, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have overseen a period of unprecedented prosperity in Turkey. But concerns are growing about authoritarianism.

Erdogan last week tore into a chart-topping soap opera about the Ottoman Empire's longest-reigning Sultan and the broadcasting regulator has warned the show's makers about insulting a historical figure.

"The Simpsons" first aired in 1989 and is the longest-running U.S. sitcom. It is broadcast in more than 100 countries and CNBC-e has been airing it in Turkey for almost a decade.

"I wonder what the script writers will do when they hear that the jokes on their show are taken seriously and trigger fines in a country called Turkey," wrote Mehmet Yilmaz, a columnist for the Hurriyet newspaper.

"Maybe they will add an almond-moustached RTUK expert to the series," he said, evoking a popular Turkish stereotype of a pious government supporter.

Read more:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Turkey: grade school girls can wear Islamic veils to school

The Recep Tayyip Erdogan administration removed the ban on Islamic veils for girls attending religious schools and for girls in all other schools during religion class, beginning in grade school, the Turkish Official State Bulletin made known Tuesday.

The Islamic veil is still banned in public and private schools during all other classes. The Erdogan administration had reinstated it for university students in a previous move. The Islamic veil was banned by secular Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The new law, which becomes effective in summer 2013, also abolishes compulsory uniforms and authorizes informal dress for grade through high school students. It forbids girls from wearing makeup, bleaching their hair, wearing shorts, miniskirts, and clothes that are clinging, transparent, or low-cut. Boys are forbidden to grow beards or mustaches, and clothes with political slogans or drawings are banned for both genders.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

One of World's Oldest Monasteries May Lose Land Used for 1,600 Years

The future of one of the world's oldest, functioning Christian monasteries may be in jeopardy.

The Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara, Turkey, has ruled that the state treasury can repossess nearly 60 percent of the land belonging to Mor Gabriel. The legal controversy comes as Syriac Christians, who worship in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, return to revitalize their homeland in eastern Turkey after fleeing violence decades ago between Turkey and Kurdish separatists.

The Assyrian monastery has been functioning since it was founded in 397. However, in 2008, the treasury filed a land registration suit against Mor Gabriel after Muslim chiefs in neighboring villages complained of the monastery's "anti-Turkish activities." That case originally was dismissed, but was resurrected on appeals over the monastery's tax records.

According to Turkish newspaper Zaman, the appeals court ruled in favor of the treasury, stating that although the land has been occupied by Mor Gabriel for more than 1,600 years, it is not the legal property of the monastery. Zaman also reported that the judges “had 'lost' property and fiscal documents 'proving that the land in question belongs to the monastery.'”

In response, Assyrian foundations made Mor Gabriel a topic in their summer meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül.

Mor Gabriel can now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to retain its property and existence. For now, the monastery’s legal status is in question.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Religious Minorities Find Sanctuary in Kurdistan

For decades, religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq suffered persecution and violence, forcing tens of thousands to flee. But in the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, many religious minorities - most with ancient roots - say their numbers are now increasing thanks to improving stability and legislation to protect minority rights. 

 Iraqi Christians were targeted by Sunni and Shi'ite militants after Saddam Hussein's ouster.
Down in the heat of Erbil city, Father Aesha Dawoud leads an Assyrian church in a suburb of the Kurdistan capital.
“Now our churches and our holy places are honored and respected by the people who live around us,” said Father Aesha. “In celebration and in peace, people come here. The people of this city guard our places of worship.”
There were tens of thousands of Christians living in cities like Baghdad and Basra in southern Iraq. The majority have fled - some overseas, many to Kurdistan.
Father Aesha said his congregation would support an independent Kurdish state.
“If the situation is like now, if they don’t change things for us, then yes we would support the Kurds,” he said.
Many Christians have settled in the town of Ainkawa outside Erbil.
Ragat Hana Yousef moved to Ainkawa from Baghdad after his liquor store there was bombed in 2005.
"Kurdistan is different from the rest of Iraq because now everyone is free to speak," he said. "There is more democracy and what’s most important, it is safe.”
Nearby, a Kurdish barber - who gave only his first name, Mohamed - said the people in Kurdistan should unite with the Kurds who now control a large part of Syria.
“It is better for one people to live in one house, not be divided in two,” he said.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Three Christians working in Turkey were martyred in 2007 on the orders of members of the military who wanted to disrupt society with violence to unseat the sitting government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to a new report that cites a 761-page indictment of 19 people for the crimes.

The deaths of Necati Aydin, Tilman Geske and Ugur Yuksel, who were attacked by several Muslims who had asked to attend a Bible study at a publishing house where the three victims worked, have become known as the Malatya Massacre.

The vicious attacks reverberated around the globe when, as WND previously reported, the widow of one of the slain Christians created a tidal wave of reaction in Turkey by expressing forgiveness for the attackers.

When the publishing house attack became known, the response of Geske’s widow, Susanne, hit the front pages of the nation’s largest newspapers.

“Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do,” she said, echoing the words of Christ on the cross in Luke 23.34. She explained she had no idea what to say until someone told her it would be an opportunity for a Christian testimony.

She agreed, and her subsequent statements were reported in detail across front pages of newspapers nationwide.

Christians, who make up less than 1 percent of the population in Turkey, have been subjected to other attacks in recent years, too. In 2006, a Turkish teen shot to death a Roman Catholic priest who was praying in his church. Two other priests were attacked the same year. Early in 2007 came the death of Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink.

There have been several attempts at bringing all those responsible for the 2007 murders to justice, unsuccessful to date.

Open Doors News by Compass Direct now is reporting on the newest effort, in which prosecutors have named 19 suspects. The case is before the Third Criminal Court in Malatya this month.

The allegations suggest members of the military spied on the Christians, incited violence and orchestrated their murders in order to create chaos for the ruling government at the time.

“This indictment provides the first solid evidence that our military authorities officially assigned the named suspects to monitor and attack the Christians in Malatya,” Umut Sahin, of the legal committee of the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches, told Open Doors News.

Prosecutors allege the five young men who stabbed, tortured and slit the throats of the three victims at the Zirve Christian Publishing House were acting at the instigation of Ret. Gen. Hursit Tolon.

He sent a medical excuse to the court instead of appearing for the hearings that already have begun.

The report said Tolon is suspected of plotting to topple the ruling Justice and Peace Party of Erdogan. The indictment alleges the deaths were part of the “Cage Action Plan” that was intended “to undermine the … government.”

The premise challenges earlier statements, including one from defendant Emre Gunaydin, who said, “We went on an expedition on behalf of Islam on our own to accomplish this event.”

Open Doors News also reported authorities have replaced two prosecutors and two of the three judges in the long-running case, citing a routine reassignment because of reforms affecting the criminal courts.

Open Doors News reports the indictment alleges: “Under the local commander’s direction, the Malatya gendarmerie had been monitoring the handful of Christians in Malatya 24 hours a day, tapping their telephones and paying informers some 60 percent of their intelligence budget to collect data on their activities, sometimes in cooperation with police and secret intelligence officials. And after the attack, the gendarmerie officers tapped the telephones of the victims’ families, lawyers and judges in the case, and then gave false documents and testimony to manipulate the trial, trying to portray the three murdered Christians as criminals linked with illegal groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the soldiers testified.”

Turkey finally makes peace with religion

In my trade you get used to it after a while, but the first time you wake up to find a military coup has happened overnight where you live is quite alarming. That was in Turkey back in 1971, when the army seized control of the country after months of political turmoil. It was not as bad as the 1960 coup, when the military authorities tried and hanged the prime minister, but it was bad enough.
There were two more coups in Turkey: In 1980, when half a million were arrested, tens of thousands were tortured and 50 were executed, and 1997, a “post-modern” coup in which the army simply ordered the prime minister to resign.
But there will be no more coups in Turkey: The army has finally been forced to bow to a democratically elected government.
Last Friday, a Turkish court sentenced
330 people, almost all military officers, to prison for their involvement in a coup plot in 2003. They included the former heads of the army, navy and air force, who received sentences of 20 years each, and six other generals.
Five years ago, nobody in Turkey could have imagined such a thing. The military was above the law, with the sacred mission of defending the secular state from being undermined by people who mixed religion with politics.
This was the duty the 330 officers thought they were performing in 2003, according to the indictments against them. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), a moderate Islamic party espousing conservative social values, had come to power after the 2002 election: The voters had got it wrong again, and their mistake had to be corrected.
With public opinion abroad and at home increasingly hostile to military coups, a better pretext was needed than in the old days. So the plot, Operation Sledgehammer, involved bomb attacks on two major mosques in Istanbul, a Turkish fighter jet shot down by the Greeks and an attack on a military museum by Islamic militants. The real attackers would actually be the military themselves. The accused 330 claimed Operation Sledgehammer was just a scenario for a military exercise, and the documents supporting the accusations have never been properly attributed. But given the army’s track record of four coups in 50 years and its deeply rooted hostility to Islamic parties, the charges were plausible, and the court believed them.
The army has no choice but to accept the court’s judgment. The AK party has been re-elected twice with increasing majorities, the party’s pious leaders have not tried to shove their values down everybody else’s throats, and the economy has flourished. Even now, many in Turkey still think the army is there to protect them from the oppression of the religious fanatics, and that any attempt to curb its power is a conspiracy against the secular, neutral state.
But the Turkish secular state has never been neutral. From the time Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his companions rescued Turkey from the wreckage of the Ottoman empire after the First World War, the state was at war with religion.
But today’s Turkey is modern, powerful and prosperous, and there is no external threat.
It’s time for the Turkish army to stop waging a cold war against the devoutly religious. They are entitled to the full rights of citizenship, too.
That was the significance of AK’s victories in the past three elections, and of the trials that have finally brought the army under control. The head of the Turkish armed forces and all three service chiefs resigned in July in protest against the trials of military personnel, but President Abdullah Gul promptly appointed a new head of the armed forces — who tamely accepted the post. It’s over.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Turkey: Still Too Small, Still Too Threatened

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan (pronounced ‘rejep erdowan’ more or less) looked like Woodrow Wilson a year ago. Everywhere he went in the Middle East, crowds hailed him. Like Wilson, he brought a political movement out of the wilderness into power at home. Like Wilson, for his followers he embodied a mix of conservative religious and progressive social ideas. Like Wilson, events propelled him to a position of huge international prominence when he appeared to have the power and the ideas that could reshape world politics in the places he cared most about. (And like Wilson, he ruthlessly suppressed dissent in the press, sending opponents and critics to jail.)
Today, Erdogan still looks a bit like Woodrow Wilson, but it is the sharply diminished, post-Versailles Wilson he most resembles. His magic moment has passed; the world did not transform. The voice of God that sounded so clearly now seems to have faded, become indistinct. His dream of leading the march of Islamist democracy through the Middle East looks tattered and worn. Libya, Syria, Egypt: none of them look like successes for Turkish diplomacy or leadership, and Syria is a fully fledged disaster that threatens instability inside Turkey itself.
All hope of reconciling the Kurds is now gone; Erdogan is increasingly reduced to retracing the faltering steps of past Kemalist wars against this restive (and demographically booming) minority. Mass detentions have put about 8,000 people under arrest, the Prime Minister is urging and threatening journalists not to report on the unfolding mess, and for the first time in many years some observers say that Kurdish rebels have established zones of control in remote rural areas of the country.
The shift from Kemalist ideology to Sunni piety as the basis for state identity helped Erdogan establish a new kind of relationship with the majority of Anatolian Turks, including a new wave of entrepreneurs who challenged the perquisites and power of the old Istanbul-based business elite. But that shift had a downside; the Kurds, after a period of hope, now see the new Turkish order as just a continuation of the old. And the Alevis, a large Turkish religious minority (perhaps 25 percent of the population), don’t like what many see as an emerging relationship between the state and a religious tradition that in the past has persecuted them.  The Syria issue tends to make things worse; the Turkish Alevis are religiously distinct from the Arab Alawites in Syria, but there are some sympathies there.
Meanwhile the international situation is looking tough. Relations with the neighbors are bad: Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria are all more hostile to Turkey than they were two years ago. The connections with America and Israel have weakened, even as a newly active Russia, strengthening ties to Israel, Greece and Cyprus, creates new challenges in the Mediterranean. Even the economy has slowed; with revolutions in the region and recession in Europe, Turkeycannot go it alone.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Turkey’s "Problematic" Secular and Religious Cultures

It is very easy in Turkey to be labeled by secularists or Kemalists as being anti-Atatürk or anti-secularist, and the first mental image that pops into mind regarding the accused is a conservative Muslim. However, the intensity of debates between the two groups suggests that Turkish political secular or religious culture did not progress much in the last decades. As Atilla Yayla wrote for Today’s Zaman, among other groups, which are suffering from stagnation or regression, the Kemalists are the worst performing of them all: “During the last 20 years, no prominent Kemalist intellectual, academic or columnist has emerged to bring vigor to the Kemalists or challenge their rival groups. Kemalist thought is gradually bleeding out, becoming archaic and anachronistic.”

Unfortunately, not only Turkey’s secularists but also anti-secularists try to lay the foundations of their claims to a higher authority. For Turkish secularists, this authority is solely Ataturk; for anti-secularists, it is Hadith, sayings or actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Anti-secularists accuse secularists of being anti-Islam; the secularists label secular and religious leaders as anti-Ataturk and see conservative Muslims as backward in many ways. 

. . .

If some powerful groups try to fix secular and anti-secular cultures in Turkey, it will become a barrier before development in many fields, including education, family life, science, technology, etc. Turkish society needs freedom from all sorts of exploitations of secular and anti-secular propaganda in social, spiritual, economic, and political areas of life.
See Link for the full article

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How missionaries were linked to the PKK

It took three days for the court to read out the summary of the indictment in the Malatya massacre case. While listening to the whole indictment, many thoughts crossed my mind, and one particular question struck me profoundly: How on earth is wasmilitary doing their own work when they were involved in other things that had nothing to do with their work at all and they were spending so much energy on them?

Especially after the Ergenekon trials, it has become crystal clear that some units within the military were spending almost all of their efforts in monitoring society, waging psychological warfare against some segments of society, contacting the media, talking to businesspeople and doing several other things in order to maintain their hegemony over political and societal life in Turkey.

While listening to the second indictment of the Malatya massacre case, once again I was surprised by the amount of time that military personnel spend on activities that have nothing to do with their work.

From the indictment, we understand that the Malatya gendarmerie commander at the time and his men were monitoring a handful of missionaries in Malatya 24 hours a day. They were tapping their telephones, their man had infiltrated this tiny Christian group and the gendarmerie was also paying “informers” a lot of money to collect data about, let’s say, 15-20 Christians in Malatya. In Malatya and in other cities, the gendarmerie organized several meetings to show everyone how dangerous the missionaries’ activities were.

Apart from all the time which they spent to incite these murders, what they did after the murders was just mind boggling. They started to listen in on the telephone conversations of the victims’ families and some other people, including myself, one of the victims’ lawyers. We can see from the court file that they listened in on all of us with court orders based on, of course, false accusations. For example, they listened in on Turkish Christians by accusing them of being involved in “fundamentalist Islamist activities.” Apparently, the judges just approved of the gendarmerie’s “communication monitoring” request without looking at the names and accusations.

Again, we understood from the indictment that the gendarmerie spent an enormous amount of time creating false documents in order to create a false image about the missionaries and Christians. When the court case started four years ago, I wrote a couple of articles about the indictment and its attachments. There were 32 files attached to the indictment; 17 of them were related to missionary activities. These documents portrayed the slain Christians as criminals. When you looked at these files, you could easily form the impression that two gangs fought each other, and at the end, the Turkish nationalist gang killed the members of the Christian gang.

Today, with the second indictment, we learned that all these documents had been created by the gendarmerie and they had presented all these fake documents to the prosecutor to manipulate the case. These documents created imaginary links between the Christians and some clandestine networks. For example, there were many documents which “showed” that the missionaries were working with the members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that they were receiving orders from the CIA, and so on. Today, we learnt that all these fake documents had been carefully prepared during workshops held by gendarmerie officers. They spent a lot of time creating all this “evidence” against the missionaries. When you look at the work of the Malatya gendarmerie through this indictment and court file, you can see that most of the Malatya gendarmerie’s time in 2007 and 2008 was spent in the war against the missionaries.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Doomed to Disappear? Religious minorities in Turkey

Students of the New Testament know it best as Asia Minor, Paul's destination on his first missionary journeys to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. The names of the Roman provinces through which Paul travelled preaching and teaching are still read every week in Sunday Schools across America.

The ancient names for the modern state of Turkey - Bithynia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Phrygia, etc. are not all that unfamiliar to American believers.

Paul's preaching attracted converts but never failed to draw fierce opposition from the local population. On more than one occasion the natives, who might have been Greeks, Phrygians, Romans, Lycians, or any mixture of Assyrians, Hittites and Persians, tried to kill him and his companions for introducing to the Empire an unknown god, a new teaching of peace and love.

This has never been a popular message with Empire (think Darth Vader), but it eventually prevailed and all of Anatolia embraced the gospel. In fact, several of Paul's epistles were addressed to Anatolian congregations and all of the seven churches of Revelation are found in modern-day Turkey.

Now, two thousand years later, things have come full circle and those bearing Christ’s message of peace in Turkey find themselves facing opposition very similar to that encountered by the early apostles. In fact, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom claims that state persecution has become so serious that the very survival of Christian communities in Turkey is at stake.

The report released last week reclassified Turkey as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

This article is Part II of a series on religious freedom in Turkey. The first article introduced the USCIRF report, touching on troubling issues related to its politicization and Turkey’s state control of religion.

Even though the commission recommended Turkey be put in the same category as offenders like Saudi Arabia, the USCIRF report listed a number of positive developments in the country. Numerous articles have been written in the West about how Prime Minister Erdogan's "mildly Islamist" government heralds a changing of the tide and will knock Turkey out of NATO’s orbit and lead to more radical Islamic policies. Yet, the facts tell a slightly different story.

1) Erdogan has promised to replace the current constitution implemented by the military in 1982. This is particularly significant since much of the institutionalized “persecution” of religious groups in Turkey is connected with its peculiar view of secularism, which essentially makes the state the final arbiter in all religious affairs.

His opponents rightly understand this as an attempt to unshackle religion, thereby giving Islamists a greater voice. But, in all fairness, religious freedom cannot be guaranteed otherwise. Practically all religious minorities have welcomed the idea of a new constitution, proof that there is an urgent need.

2) In 2008, the Foundations Law was amended to facilitate the operations of religious foundations. Soon after it went into effect, 1,400 applications were received asking for the return of religious properties seized during the Republican era by the government. Over the next three years, 200 properties were, in fact, returned.

In 2011, Erdogan also passed an executive order that made it possible to obtain compensation for properties that had been previously seized by the state and could not be returned. Both of these steps are significant.

3) The Associations Law passed in 2004 and amended in 2007 makes it possible for all religious organizations to hold religious services and determine their own religious curriculum. This too was progress made by Erdogan’s government, yet one cannot help but wonder why it took “modern”, “democratic” Turkey so long to provide some legal underpinning for such a basic right.

Celebration of victory regarding this important civil liberty could be premature, for associations may not own property and their status may be revoked by local governors.

4) Erdogan’s AKP government has also granted unprecedented permission for minority religious services as well as building and restoration projects (e.g. the Armenian Akdamar church and Sümela Orthodox Monastery), indicating a new era of openness. The government has even been severely criticized by nationalists for its “leniency” with minority religious groups.

5) Although anti-Semitism has spread throughout the Middle East like a malignant tumor and Erdogan’s unprecedented popularity with Arabs is due almost entirely to his pro-Palestinian positions and criticisms of Israel, Jews in Turkey continue to enjoy rights seldom given to them in other Muslim countries.

In fact, Prime Minister Erdogan once called Turkey Israel’s most important friend in the region, and said that anti-Semitism was a “crime against humanity,” statements one can hardly imagine coming from most Arab states. Furthermore, on January 29, 2012, Turkey became the first majority Muslim country to broadcast the 9-hour documentary Shoah on state television to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day!

This is only a summary of the AKP’s progress regarding religious freedom, progress unparalleled in the history of the Republic of Turkey, progress which has been affirmed by every religious minority in the country, and progress the USCIRF report dismisses as ad hoc.

Why are these impressive reforms being dismissed? Why is the AKP not being congratulated in the West for taking steps to promote religious freedom that no other government in the history of Turkey has been able to achieve?

It’s a simple question with a simple answer hidden in a phrase used several times in the report – ad hoc.

In other words, the commission believes that none of these efforts address the institutionalized injustice that places onerous restrictions on religious freedom in Turkey. All of these reforms could be reversed tomorrow because no real protections have been afforded these communities.

Read more: Doomed to Disappear? Religious minorities in Turkey | Washington Times Communities
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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Piano melodies to echo at historic Armenian church

Some 97 years after being closed, the historical Surp (Holy) Iragos Armenian Church in the southeastern province of Diyarbakırwas reopened to worship last October. Now, the church will host a piano recital. 

After also working hard in the restoration of the church himself, the Istanbul-born Canadian pianist Raffi Bedrosyan will perform in the concert. In an e-mail interview, Bedrosyan told the Hürriyet Daily News that the concert was “more significant to me than all my previous concerts in north America.”

“I am optimistic that the number of these people is increasing daily. I believe we need to increase opportunities for dialogue, cultural and academic interactions between Armenians and people of Turkey, especially for young people, so that the widespread discrimination and intolerance toward Armenians will be diminished in Turkey,” Bedrosyan said. “I am so excited for this concert.” “It will be the first concert by an Armenian since 1915. The Turkish word ‘çalmak’ has two meanings, ‘to steal,’ or ‘to play a musical instrument,” he added. “The first meaning of the word took place in this church in 1915, when Diyarbakır Governor Reşit, after massacring the entire Diyarbakir Armenian population, brought all the stolen valuable Armenian possessions to Surp Giragos Church, including several pianos.

Now 97 years later, I wish to implement the second meaning of the word, by giving this concert in the same church.” 


Thursday, August 30, 2012

'Tomatoes are Christian,' Egyptian Salafi group warns

This will never fly in Turkey, where tomatoes are such a staple of life, but is interesting none the less:

A Salafi group called the "Popular Egyptian Islamic Association" has warned Muslims against eating tomatoes on the grounds that the fruit is a "Christian food," has reported. 
The group based its claim on the fact that a shape resembling a cross is revealed when one cuts a tomato in half. 
The association published the warning on its Facebook page with a photo of a tomato cut in half, revealing a cross-shaped interior. 

A message posted on the page read, "Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian. [The tomato] praises the cross instead of Allah and says that Allah is three [in reference to the Holy Trinity]."
The message went on to say, "I implore you to spread this photo because there is a sister from Palestine who saw the Prophet of Allah in a vision and he was crying, warning his nation against eating [tomatoes]. If you don’t spread this [message], know that it is the devil who stopped you.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bell-tower of Armenian church in Turkey back after 97 years

The bell-tower of Surp Giragos Armenian Church in Diyarbakır, Turkey, is set to return to use after a 97-year interval, with a new bell made in Russia, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

As part of repair and restoration work at the Surp Giragos Church a new bell was made in Moscow, and has been delivered to Diyarbakır. The bronze bell weighs 100 kilograms, and will ring from the bell-tower beginning at its reopening ceremony on November 4.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How far will new Constitution protect freedom of religion or belief?

Turkey's Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (AUK) has begun the drafting a new Constitution. But the political parties represented on the AUK have not reached a consensus on freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. What are the implications of the new Constitution's possible omission of parts of Turkey's international religious freedom commitments, affecting for example religious education, conscientious objection, and the neutrality of the state? The scope of constitutional guarantees of religious freedom in Turkey should not be limited by the boundaries of the AKP government. Constitutional provisions must reflect the provisions on religious freedom in Turkey's international human rights commitments.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Turks in Germany are Religious, but Favor Integration

When news hit the headlines this spring that Salafists in Germany were handing out free Korans in city centers across the country, the outcry was immediate. Politicians called for the campaign to be banned, journalists wrote extensively about Salafist radicalism and even the publishing house printing the free Korans distanced itself.

One group of people living in Germany, however, was not nearly as put off by the promotion. According to a new survey among those of Turkish descent living in the country, almost two-thirds of those aged between 15 and 29 consider the distribution of the Koran to be "good" or "very good," and one-third of them would donate money to the cause.

The result, says Holger Liljeberg, who heads Info GmbH, the company that conducted the survey, "could be the result of a resurgence among young people of religious values from their parents' homeland." Liljeberg, however, warned against concluding that the survey results -- based on interviews with 1,011 people of Turkish heritage in Germany over the age of 15 -- indicate a trend toward radicalization. Indeed, even as the number of those who identify themselves as strictly religious is rising (from 33 percent in 2009 to 37 percent this year), so too is the share of immigrants who wish to integrate completely into German society.

The willingness of Turkish migrants and their descendents to integrate into German society remains high and is climbing. Whereas 70 percent said in 2010 that they want to "absolutely and without reservations integrate into German society," the new survey found that 78 percent of respondents agreed. Similarly, whereas 59 percent said two years ago that they wanted to belong to German society, 75 percent say so now. Fully 95 percent say that all children with Turkish backgrounds should go to day care facilities so as to learn German prior to entering school.

Overall, the survey released on Friday paints an image of a Turkish community in Germany that is split between a trend toward increased religiosity, particularly among the younger generations, and a desire to fit into German society. For example, whereas only 8 percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of purely Turkish-language elementary schools for children with Turkish backgrounds, 62 percent (up from 40 percent in 2010) said they prefer hanging out with fellow Turks.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Turkey's Religious Office to Extend Reach Beyond Mosques

The Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), the official body responsible for regulating religious practices and bureaus in Turkey, announced that it is also willing to provide “religious social services.” The ORA’s Director General of Religious Services, Dr. Yasar Yigit, said that the organization wants to go beyond managing mosques, and offer socially-oriented services in senior homes and prisons. Yigit said that the ORA also wanted to be involved in activities involving street children, anti-drug campaigns and the struggle against terrorism.

Dr. Yigit said that his department — which was founded in the same year that the Turkish Republic was created — will have 150,000 personnel in all corners of the country by the end of the year. “The ORA has become a gigantic institution. You can even come across an ORA officer in the most remote town in Turkey. Today, 3,500 staff members are serving abroad wherever there are Turks. We are about to sign protocols with the ministries of justice, health, family affairs and interior to regulate such activities,” he added.

Asserting that the society is in need of these services, Yigit said, “There may be those asking why we are expanding the scope of our services. It is because of the current trend worldwide: religion is increasingly gaining a functional role. This trend affects all societies and does not only apply only to our religion. Religion is now the main pillar for societies, cultures and civilizations.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Turkey’s Human Rights Hypocrisy

A NEW political order is emerging in the Middle East, and Turkey aspires to be its leader by taking a stand against authoritarian regimes. Earlier this week, Turkey’s prime minister,Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went so far as to denounce the Syrian government’s continuing massacres of civilians as“attempted genocide.”
Turkey’s desire to champion human rights in the region is a welcome development, but Mr. Erdogan’s condemnation of Syria is remarkably hypocritical. As long as Turkey continues to deny crimes committed against non-Turks in the early 1900s, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, its calls for freedom, justice and humanitarian values will ring false.
Turkey’s attempt to cultivate an image as the global protector of Muslim rights is compromised by a legacy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Christians and terror against Arabs and Kurds. Memories of these crimes are very much alive throughout former Ottoman territories. And Turkey cannot serve as a democratic model until it acknowledges that brutal violence, population transfers and genocide underlie the modern Turkish state.  
Using documents from the Ottoman government archives in Istanbul, which were once classified as top secret, I have sought to pull back the veil on Turkey’s century of denial. These documents clearly demonstrate that Ottoman demographic policy from 1913 to 1918 was genocidal. Indeed, the phrase “crimes against humanity” was coined as a legal term and first used on May 24, 1915, in response to the genocide against Armenians and other Christian civilians.
Britain, France and Russia initially defined Ottoman atrocities as “crimes against Christianity” but later substituted “humanity” after considering the negative reaction that such a specific term could elicit from Muslims in their colonies.
Today, Mr. Erdogan is seeking to be a global spokesman for Muslim values. In June 2011, he told thousands gathered to celebrate the landslide victory of his Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P.: “Sarajevo won today as much as Istanbul; Beirut won as much as Izmir; Damascus won as much as Ankara. Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza won as much as Diyarbakir.” 
Speaking in support of oppressed Muslims has earned him popularity. But if Mr. Erdogan aspires to defend freedom and democracy in the region, he must also address the legitimate fears of Christians in the Middle East. Just as the European powers opted for universalism in 1915 by denouncing “crimes against humanity,” Mr. Erdogan must move beyond his narrow focus on “crimes against Muslims.” All oppressed peoples deserve protection.