Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Will the Malatya massacre be also covered up after Dink?

When I first heard the final verdict on the Hrant Dink murder case, a couple of thoughts crossed my mind. I thought the case had been completely covered up.
The court delivered such a terrible judgment, in which they went so far as to say that there was no “organization” behind this murder. This verdict was the worst of the worst that the court could ever deliver in this case. Does this mark a turning point in dealing with deep state-affiliated cases, or was it incidental?

Not only did I think all this, but I was also seriously concerned with other future developments that could occur in other cases, specifically the Malatya massacre case, in which three missionaries were barbarically killed in Malatya in 2007. We have been waiting for a second indictment in this case for a very long time. As you know, this case continued like the Hrant Dink case for a long time, focusing on a few hitmen without gaining any insight into the identities of the real perpetrators behind the murders. Then, last year help came from an Ergenekon prosecutor, Zekeriya Öz, who acted on information given to him by a “secret witness” who worked for gendarmerie. This secret witness told prosecutor Öz that he was a gendarmerie officer who had infiltrated the Protestant community upon the orders of his superiors. He even became a pastor. Upon a second order from a gendarmerie commander, he appeared on TV on Feb. 28, 2005 and explained how he had become “enlightened” about the evil in the activities of Protestants in Turkey, so had decided to become Muslim. He was very popular during this time, appearing on TV stations one after another, warning Turkish society about “missionaries” and about their terrible intentions in Turkey. This was, of course, a part of a huge anti-Christian campaign by Ergenekon circles. Luckily, gendarmerie sergeant, İlker Çınar, also gave other information to Öz, who then decided to arrest the former Malatya gendarmerie commander and other gendarmerie officers. Öz also ordered police to carry out searches of the homes of theology professors who were appearing on TV channels with Çınar and conducting a hate campaign against Christians.

Çınar explained that he was receiving a salary from the Malatya gendarmerie, which was quite active in anti-Christian campaigns across the country. Çınar also gave some specific details on how the Malatya gendarmerie had prepared the groundwork for the Malatya massacre.

As you know Öz was “promoted” and lost contact with the Ergenekon file. Following this, an İstanbul prosecutor sent all these investigation files to a Malatya prosecutor who had been working on this file for a long time. When I talked to him three or four months ago, he told me he was going to introduce a second indictment in the Malatya massacre case that would uncover the whole network behind the massacre. However, I also learnt that the Malatya massacre file was taken from him recently and given to another prosecutor who had prepared the Kurdish Communities’ Union (KCK) indictment before. I am now seriously concerned by the possibility that this second indictment will never be delivered or that it will be very weak. We will see what happens.

If there is no serious policy change, the second indictment in the Malatya massacre should introduce fairly new angles, from which we will be able to gain new perspectives to understand all the other attacks on Christians in the last decade. I also strongly believe that if we could get a proper second indictment in the Malatya case, it will have a serious effect on the Dink case and it will also force the prosecutors and judges to look at the case files from a different perspective.

Will Turkey progress in uncovering the real network behind the murders in the past? The Malatya massacre case and this second indictment will be a turning point in this struggle. We will soon see how it unfolds.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Murders of Turkey’s non-Muslims await illumination

In recent years, Turkey has been shaken by the murders of a number of prominent non-Muslims.
Some of their court cases received more attention than others, but lawyers suspect they might all be related. One such case was the murder of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro, who was killed in 2006 by a 16-year-old ultranationalist in his church in the Black Sea province of Trabzon. The Santoro case was completed with lightning speed.Then came the murder of Hrant Dink, the editor-in-chief of the İstanbul-based Turkish-Armenian Agos weekly.

The hitman was again an ultranationalist teenager. The court sentenced one suspect to life while acquitting all suspects of organized crime charges in the January 2007 murder. The high-profile case is expected to go to the Supreme Court of Appeals. After that, in April 2007, three Protestant missionaries were brutally murdered, bound to chairs, tortured and stabbed at the Zirve Publishing House in the eastern province of Malatya before their throats were slit. The publishing house printed Bibles and Christian literature.

In 2010, Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese, who led Father Santoro’s funeral service in 2007, was also brutally killed by his driver and bodyguard in the Mediterranean port of İskenderun in southern Turkey. The hearing of the case will be on Feb. 22, but the case has a low profile.

Ercan Eriş, the lawyer for the Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia, said the family of Bishop Padovese is not willing to pursue the case, just like the family of Father Santoro.

“I observe the hearings of the case on behalf of the church. We tried so hard to obtain formal permission from the family to represent them in order to pursue the case, but they are not interested in that. Therefore, the case is in the hands of the public prosecutor,” he said.

Eriş also said the reason behind the family’s unwillingness is totally based on the theological teaching of “forgiveness.” “Based on my previous experience, I can say their decision is related to their beliefs because in several other cases of attacks against churches and religious leaders, priests and churches have never filed official complaints,” he added.

However, things might change in the course of the case if new evidence emerges, just like in the case of the Malatya missionaries.

When Dink was killed five years ago, almost no one realized there might have been some links between the Dink, Santoro and Malatya murders except human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who said this was the beginning of a pattern.

“We later found out about the Cage plan and learned how those involved in the Ergenekon gang had planned and carried out their attacks and their campaigns of intimidation against non-Muslims.
Murders of Turkey’s non-Muslims await illumination

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tens of Thousands Mark Journalist's Death

Tens of thousands of protesters marked the fifth anniversary of a Turkish-Armenian journalist's murder on Thursday as outrage continues to grow over a trial that failed to shed light on alleged official negligence or even collusion.

Human rights activists placed red carnations on the spot in Istanbul where Hrant Dink was gunned down in broad daylight outside of his minority Agos newspaper office by a nationalist teenage gunman.

The case highlights Turkey's uneasy relationship with its ethnic and religious minorities, including at least 60,000 Armenian Christians. Many people carried black banners that read: "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian," and some chanted "Turkey will be a grave for fascism."

Tens of thousands marched for justice, a call shared by Turkish leaders and leading businessmen who expressed unease over this week's sentencing of one man, Yasin Hayal, to life in prison for masterminding the killing, while another 17 were acquitted of charges of acting under a terrorist organization's orders. The court neglected to issue a verdict about a 19th suspect.

"The verdict is tragic and is weighing heavily on the conscience of everyone in Turkey," Rober Koptas, Dink's son-in-law and editor-in-chief of Agos, told AP television in an interview.

The gunman, Ogun Samast, was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison in July by a separate juvenile court.

Umit Boyner, the head of Turkey's influential industrialists' association TUSIAD, said the court's decision had "shocked" the public.

"What we solidly see in this trial process is that the belief in justice has been shaken and weaknesses in our justice system have been revealed," he said.

Turkey’s Greek minority to open school on Gökçeada

The Ministry of Education has given permission to the Greek community to open a primary school on Gökçeada (Imbros), an island in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Çanakkale province.
Laki Vingas, elected representative of non-Muslim foundations at the Council of the General Assembly of the Directorate General for Foundations (VGM), was quoted in the Milliyet daily on Thursday as saying that the ministry gave permission verbally and that the Greeks of Gökçeada can start the process of opening a Greek school on the island.

Turkey's Greek schools are on the verge of closure because the Greek community's population is close to the point of extinction. There are estimated to be only 180-200 Turkish citizens of Greek origin on Gökçeada, and the number of Greek students expected to attend a Greek school on the island is expected to be low. But Vingas said that even if there are 10 students, the initiative would be important because it gives hopes for the future of the Greek community in Turkey.

Even though the Greek population in Turkey was no less than 100,000 in the 1930s, tension between Turkey and Greece has greatly affected their survival in Turkey. Following the İstanbul Riots of Sept. 6-7, 1955 and the 1964 deportation of roughly 12,000 ethnic Greeks without Turkish citizenship, the Greek population has been in constant decline. By 1966, the Greek population in İstanbul was reduced to less than 30,000 and it has been diminishing ever since. The population of Turkey's Greek community is estimated to be around 3,000 today.

Anger in Istanbul over Dink murder trial

Ruling in Hrant Dink murder case does not shed light on real instigators

A Turkish court sentences Yasin Hayal to life in prison for instigating the assassination, but does not attribute any role to the terrorist organisation responsible for the murder of Fr Andrea Santoro in Trabzon and three Christians in Malatya. The ‘deep state’ is responsible for crimes designed to destabilise the country.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Meleklere Kulak Verin - Turkish Christmas Music CD Available

The first Turkish Christian Christmas music CD is available to listen to and to purchase via iTunes. Good music and a great way to support Christian work in Turkey!

Five myths about anti-Christian persecution

"In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life," he said. "In other countries, they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes."

French intellectual Régis Debray, a veteran leftist who fought alongside Che Guevara in Bolivia, has observed that anti-Christian persecution unfolds squarely in the political blind spot of the West -- the victims are usually "too Christian" to excite the left, "too foreign" to interest the right.

As a contribution towards erasing that blind spot, let's debunk five common myths about anti-Christian persecution.

Myth No. 1: Christians are vulnerable only where they're a minority - According to October 2010 data from the Pew Forum, Christians face harassment in a staggering total of 133 countries, representing more than two-thirds of all nations on earth, including many where Christians are a strong majority.

Myth No. 2: It's all about Islam - Christians suffer from a slew of other forces, including:
Hindu radicalism
Buddhist radicalism
State-imposed security policies

Myth No. 3: No one saw it coming - Turkey offers an example. On June 3, 2010, Bishop Luigi Padovese, an Italian Capuchin and the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, was murdered by his driver, who claimed he had a private revelation identifying Padovese as the anti-Christ. Since the driver had been receiving psychiatric treatment, Turkish authorities announced there was no "political motive" and declared the case closed.
What that failed to acknowledge was the general climate in which a madman might get the idea that a Catholic bishop was evil.
Shortly after Padovese arrived in 2004, negotiations began toward Turkey's membership in the EU, inflaming nationalist resentments. Between that point and Padovese's death in 2010, a clear pattern of menace emerged to the tiny Christian minority (150,000 out of 72 million):
In 2005, polemical mini-dramas about the Crusades aired on Turkish television, which led to rocks being tossed through the windows of Christian churches, garbage being left on the doorsteps of churches and verbal abuse of Christian clergy in the streets.
Also in 2005, a sensational book was published by a Turk named Ilker Cinar, who claimed to be a former Protestant who had returned to Islam, titled I Was a Missionary -- the Code is Decoded. He claimed that Christians were working with Kurdish separatists and wanted to destroy the nation.
On Jan. 8, 2006, a Protestant church leader in Adana was beaten by five young men.
On Feb. 5, 2006, an Italian Catholic missionary named Fr. Andrea Santoro was shot to death in the city of Trabzon by a 16-year-old shouting "Allahu Akhbar." (Padovese celebrated the funeral Mass.)
In the weeks after Santoro's murder, Slovenian Fr. Martin Kmetec was thrown into a garden and threatened with death in the port city of Izmir, while French Fr. Pierre Brunissen was stabbed with a knife in the Black Sea port of Samsun.
On Jan. 19, 2007, a prominent Turkish Christian of Armenian descent, Hrant Dink, was assassinated in Istanbul.
On April 18, 2007, three Christian missionaries who ran a small publishing operation were murdered in Malatya.
In 2009, Turkish media published reports about the "Cage Plan," a scheme hatched by ultra-nationalists in tandem with elements of the military to destabilize the state through attacks on Christians, Armenians, Kurds, Jews and Alevis.
In that context, does it really make sense to style Padovese's murder as an isolated act? Or is it more accurate to say that even if no one could have predicted the precise time and target of the next attack, Turkey had allowed a perilous climate to fester?

Myth No. 4: It's only persecution if the motives are religious - today's risks are hardly limited to classic instances of martyrdom, but a wide variety of circumstances in which Christians are in harm's way. Even if they're not attacked for religious motives, their reasons for being in that spot are usually rooted in their faith.

Myth No. 5: Anti-Christian persecution is a right-wing issue - The truth is that persecution against Christians, ideologically speaking, is an equal-opportunity enterprise.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Hagia Sophia, and Freedom of Religion

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, not far from the well known Blue Mosque, has been the centre point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for over one thousand years. The first recorded structure dates back to the 4th century. The current structure was built in the 6th century. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, renamed it to Istanbul and converted the Hagia Sophia to an Islamic mosque. Then, in 1935, with the secularization of Turkey under Kemal Ataturk, the Hagia Sophia was declared to be a state-owned museum. It still is an imposing edifice today.

The Hagia Sophia is a religious monument to Christian heritage and beliefs and has served as the principal church of the Orthodox Church for over one thousand years. Despite that history, it could not be re-dedicated as a church under the current laws in Turkey. The country, though officially separating the affairs of church and state as per Ataturk’s reforms, still upholds the Islamic law which prevents any non-Islamic faith from owning any property, for any purpose. What is largely unknown in western countries is that no faith, other than Islam, is permitted to possess any property whatsoever in an Islamic country, not even in Turkey.

In recent years, many western, predominantly Christian countries have gone to great lengths to accommodate customs and religions of immigrants from other parts of the globe within their realms. Especially the believers of Islam are vigorously claiming various rights based on the basis of ‘freedom of religion’ enshrined in the secular laws of much of the western world.

Believers in Islam, and even more so their religious leaders, should insist on the same freedom of religion and associated rights that they claim for themselves, for any non-Islamic believers in Islamic countries, with equal fervor. Without such affirmations, both in word and deed, Islamic claims to religious freedom (in the West) are mere hollow requests for benevolence for their own sake. True freedom can only be gained by advocating it for others as well as oneself.

Foremost though, it should be incumbent for any leader of western world countries to insist on full reciprocity of a (western style) freedom of religion in Islamic countries, when contemplating any financial assistance to them or a political engagement.

The current status of the Christian Hagia Sophia and other places of non-Islamic worship demonstrate a continued oppression of non-Islamic religions in Islamic countries, even in ‘secular’ Turkey. The West needs to recognize such and act accordingly.

Turkish Mufti : Santa Claus would use front door if he was a decent person

A common point of discussion in Turkey is to talk against celebrating Christmas, because it has the potential to convert people to Christianity. A local religious leader had some funny commentary on this:

"The Muftı of Kesan ( a small town in NW Turkey) is the order of the day in Turkey with his statements on Santa Claus.

Süleyman Yeniçeri (the last name means Janissary in Turkish) is hot topic in Turkey, after the mufti stressed his opinion about Santa Claus and the adoptation of Christian Christmas and new year habits into Turkish and Muslim Life. The brilliant statement of Yeniçeri was : ”New year celebrations are not part of our (Turkish) culture. There is no person as Santa Claus. There is one Saint Nick, yes, but he is merely a fabrication. It is yet not clear if santa or Saint nick has ever lived or not. Santa Claus uses chimneys or windows to enter homes. If he was a decent person, he would use the front door.”

The brilliant mufti continued :” Why are we trying to impersonate the Christian lifestyle. Do they [Christians] try to copy our ways of living ? Christmas and New Year Celebrations are imports from Christian World. Christmas is not our rejoicing or holiday. Koran says do enter using the front door.”

Though most Turks are Muslim and do not celebrate the Christmas Holiday, they nevertheless are well aware of the famous gift-bearing Saint and know him fondly as “Noel Baba” (Father Christmas). The ritual of gift-giving around the Christmas season has caught on as a tradition in many Turkish households and among friends and usually occurs on New Year’s Eve rather than on the eve of December 24th. Christmas trees too abound in cosmopolitain cities like Istanbul with small replicas for sale at major department stores."

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Harmony schools causing discord

These schools are common throughout Texas and related schools have opened up in many parts of the US as well as the rest of the world. It's interesting to see that Muslim missionaries are using many of the strategies that were used previously by western missionaries. This article talks about some of the controversy regarding these schools:

"The 36 schools that make up the Harmony charter school network are among the highest-rated in Texas. But despite its glowing academic record, Harmony has received a flurry of criticism for its business practices. In particular, the charter network's reliance on visas for Turkish-born staff and use of Turkish-owned businesses for construction and other contracts has raised questions about how it spends taxpayer money and whether it is too insular.

In just more than a decade, Harmony Public Schools, operated by the Cosmos Foundation of Houston, has grown to become one of the largest charter school networks in Texas, serving about 16,700 students last school year. Two schools, with about 900 students last year, are in San Antonio. Some Harmony critics point to a burgeoning number of Turkish-American-led charter networks in the United States, more than 120 in 25 states, that they say are tied to Islamic political leader Fethullah Gulen.
“The only crime is that they're Turkish,” State Board of Education member and early Harmony supporter David Bradley said. “And in Texas, that is not a crime.” From 2008 to 2010, the Labor Department certified 1,197 H-1B visa requests from the Cosmos Foundation — more than double the number of visas certified nationwide for Texas-based computer company Dell USA and about 70 percent as many as were certified for tech giant Apple Inc.

Those certifications were forwarded to the Homeland Security Department for final approval. The visas are intended to attract foreign workers with skills that are in short supply among American workers. Harmony has about 290 employees working on H-1B visas, or 16 percent of its workforce, according to Superintendent Soner Tarim. Most are Turkish, said Tarim, who is also from Turkey. Few other Texas school districts hire significant numbers of workers on H-1B visas.

Like most charter school operators, Harmony's first schools opened in former stores and spaces leased from churches. Harmony still operates some storefront campuses, but over time began to build its own schools using money from the sale of public bonds.
Tarim bristled at the implication that the charter network was giving much of its work to a closed circle of Turkish-owned businesses.

“That's actually a misconception,” he said. The Cosmos Foundation does award many contracts to businesses owned by non-Turks. But in recent years, eight of the charter network's 10 largest contracts have gone to just two companies, both of which have close ties to Cosmos: the Houston-based contracting firms Solidarity Contracting and TDM Contracting."

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