Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Indictment of ‘Masterminds’ of Murders in Turkey Expected

Judges in Turkey’s southeastern city of Malatya have announced the preparation of an indictment in the case of three murdered Christians that is expected to reveal a shadowy network that incited five young men to carry out the crime.

The Third Criminal Court of Malatya is expected to announce the indictment on April 9, followed by a week of witness testimony that judges believe will link the five murder suspects to the “masterminds” who prompted them, plaintiff lawyers said. The brutal murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske at the Zirve Publishing House by five young men in 2007 are believed to be part of a conspiracy to overthrow the current pro-Islamic government.

“In the next court hearing, the new indictment will certainly be ready, and the case will deepen as the suspects and instigators are judged together,” co-plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan told Compass.

Dogan said the case will speed up with the introduction of the new indictment and make it easier to bring those responsible to justice.

Co-plaintiff attorney Orhan Kemal Cengiz said that with this second indictment he expects former gendarmerie commanders and other officers who have been arrested in connection with the Malatya murders to finally take the stand in the case – something he and colleagues have long hoped for.

“The longer we wait, the more anxious we become, because it should have been announced [long ago],” Cengiz said.

Cengiz said he is not sure how deep the second indictment will probe into the network he and other attorneys believe was behind the five murderers. For the last five years, plaintiff lawyers have argued there is overwhelming evidence that the Malatya murders were connected to Ergenekon, a hidden network within the state alleged to have plotted crimes to destabilize the government.

“It is difficult to speak about it without seeing the indictment itself,” said Cengiz. “It should implicate a wider network behind these murders. But we don’t know to what extent they will expand the limits of the case. I hope it will uncover the real network, but it may be too shallow; then again, it may really go deep.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Christians help with earthquake relief in Turkey

An earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale jolted the Turkish Van city on Friday. Additional reports of damages have not been reported yet. An earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale jolted Van province on Oct.23 killing more than 600 people. Later earthquakes measuring 5.1 and 6.1 took place. Over 4,000 people were injured. About 2,262 buildings were destroyed.

A few weeks ago record low temperatures and heavy snow made life difficult for the more than 140,000 Turkish quake survivors still living in tents or temporary homes. However, relief continues to be a need in the region. Turkey Country Director for IN Network Behnan Kanutgan says the church only numbers about 3,500, but they're helping. "As Christians we want to show our love to people. We want to show mercy. That's one of the theological church services to serve the world. We need to evangelize and show mercy.

Kanutgan says most of the people who remain in Van are poor. He says Christians are having an impact, but it hasn't been easy. "There is a great hatred and deep prejudice against Christians. But, when we're talking to people and bless them and help them they see the difference and that is what we want to do, to be an example to our people in Turkey."

Kanutgan hopes, "By doing this people will realize that Christians exist in Turkey. A Turk means a Muslim -- Muslim means Turkey. We are Turkish people. We are Turkish citizens, but we are Christians. And, now the media started to realize this, and this is why we want to help those in need."

Friday, February 24, 2012

1500 year-old ‘ Syriac ‘ Bible found in Ankara, Turkey

The relic was ‘rediscovered’ in the depositum of Ankaran Justice Palace, the ancient version of bible is believed to be written in Syriac, a dialect of the native language of Jesus.

Ankara / Turkey – The bible was already in custody of Turkish authorities after having been seized in 2000 in an operation in Mediterranean area in Turkey. The gang of smugglers had been charged with smuggling antiquities, illegal excavations and the possession of explosives and went to trial. Turkish police testified in a court hearing they believe the manuscript in the bible could be about 1500 to 2000 years old.After waiting eight years in Ankara the ancient bible is being transferred to the Ankaran Ethnography Museum with a police escort.

Ancient Bible will be shown in Ankaran Ethnography Museum

The bible, whose copies are valued around 3-4 Mil. Dollars had been transferred to Ankara for safety reasons, since no owners of the ancient relic could be found.

The manuscript carries excerpts of the Bible written in gold lettering on leather and loosely strung together, with lines of Syriac script with Aramaic dialect. Turkish authorities express the bible is a cultural asset and should be protected for being worthy of a museum.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Orthodox Christian leader favors constitution promoting religious freedom in Turkey

The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians said Monday that Turkey’s new constitution should grant equal rights to minorities in the country and safeguard religious freedoms.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I met with members of a parliamentary subcommittee seeking an all-party consensus in drawing up a new constitution, which will replace the one ratified in 1982 while Turkey was under military rule. The subcommittee is meeting with non-governmental organizations and representatives of minority groups for input on the drafting of the new laws.

Mostly Muslim Turkey, which is seeking to join the European Union, has small Christian and Jewish communities. The EU has made improved rights for the religious groups a condition for membership.

Turkey’s existing constitution guarantees religious freedom, but when it comes to minority religions the country has long been criticized for restricting the training of clergy and the ownership of places of worship, and for interfering with the selection of church leaders. It also has recognized Bartholomew I as the leader of the local church in Turkey, but not as ecumenical patriarch of all Orthodox Christians.

For decades, Turkey has mostly ignored demands of the Patriarchate, mainly due to mistrust stemming from a rivalry with Greece. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has pledged to address the problems of religious minorities and said he hopes the new constitution will correct democratic shortfalls.

Bartholomew sounded optimistic about the new constitution.

“Unfortunately there have been injustices toward minorities until now,” Bartholomew said. “These are slowly being corrected and changed. A new Turkey is being born.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Christians Subject To Discrimination, Attacks, Report Says

Despite some promising developments, Christians in Turkey continue to suffer attacks from private citizens, discrimination by lower-level government officials and vilification in both school textbooks and news media, according to a study by a Protestant group.

In its annual “Report on Human Rights Violations,” released in January, the country’s Association of Protestant Churches notes mixed indicators of improvement but states that there is a “root of intolerance” in Turkish society toward adherents of non-Islamic faiths.

“The removal of this root of intolerance is an urgent problem that still awaits to be dealt with,” the report states.

“There is still a lot of room for improvement,” said Mine Yildirim, a member of the legal committee for the association. “These problems have not been solved in some time.”

The report documented 12 attacks against Christians in 2011, including incidents in which individuals were beaten in Istanbul for sharing their faith, church members were threatened and church buildings attacked. None of the attackers have been charged. In some of the attacks, the victims declined to bring charges against the assailants.

In some places in Turkey, some church leaders have to “live under some sort of police protection,” the report reads.

“There are at least five church leaders who have bodyguards, and at least two have a direct phone line to a police protection unit,” the report states. “Several churches have police protection during worship services.”

Yildirim said attacks have increased since the previous year, and that much of the problem lies in the fact that the Turkish government won’t admit there is a problem. The state routinely characterizes attacks on Christians as isolated acts of violence rather than the result of intolerance within elements across Turkish society.

“I think it has to be identified as a problem by the state, initially,” Yildirim said. “It is a problem that nothing is being done about at all.”

There are an estimated 120,000 Christians in Turkey, of which 3,000 are Protestants. Sunni Muslims make up close to 99 percent of the country’s 75 million people, according to United Nations’ population figures.

Attacks against Christians come from those who, at a minimum, question the “Turkishness” of Christian nationals or who, at the extreme, view Christians as spies out to destroy the country from within. Many of the more horrific attacks, such as the 2007 torture and killing of three Christians in Malatya, have been linked to members of nationalist movements. The criminal case into the murders continues without a court ruling thus far.

Along with attacks, Christians in Turkey continue to have problems establishing places of worship. The worst incident in that regard last year was on Dec. 23, when the local government of Istanbul’s Sancaktepe district sealed the entrance to the floor of a building rented by the Istanbul Family Life Association, allegedly because of licensing issues.

“When individuals went to the municipality to inquire about the situation, they were told there would not be any activity by the association allowed in that area and that the seal would not be removed,” the report states. “In the same building there are bars and cafes that continue their work along with other businesses. It is only the church association activities that are being banned; they are targets of hate speech and open favoritism of others.”

The report also identifies state policies that single out Christian children for harassment or vilification. A civics book, “The History of the Turkish Republic’s Reforms and ‘Ataturkism,’” taught to eighth-grade students, continues to characterize “missionary activities” as a national threat. The Ministry of Education ignored the association’s efforts to change the language, according to the association’s report.

“This example vividly shows that prejudice and intolerance has been built up by the Ministry of Education and has been worked into the thinking of others,” the report states.

Along with the government, the association points a finger squarely at Turkish news media for perceived bigotry toward Turkish Christians.

“The increase in the slanderous and misinformation-filled and subjective reporting with regard to Christians in 2011 is a worrisome development,” the report states.

Being a Christian is often characterized in the news media as a negative thing, according to the study, and many legal activities of church bodies were portrayed as if they were illegal or a liability to society. Some church groups were falsely linked to at least one terrorist group.

Despite all the problems, Christian Turkish nationals are still faring better than their regional counterparts in countries such as Iran, Iraq and Egypt. The report notes some positive developments in Turkey over the past year, including school administrators being more responsive to the rights of non-Muslim students to opt out of state-mandated Islamic education.

In addition, due to a court order, Turkish citizens are allowed to leave the religious affiliation space blank on their state-issued identification cards. The association noted that some government agencies have been more responsive to concerns about the rights of the Christian minority.

Yildirim declined to speculate on the future of Christians in Turkey but concluded, “Change can happen in Turkey; it just needs to be a priority.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Building mosques to restore churches

On February 9, the Georgian Patriarchate released a statement condemning a recent agreement between the Georgian and Turkish governments, on the restoration of religious sites on one another's sovereign territory. The Georgian government has consented to build a new mosque in Batumi, in exchange for restoration work to be conducted on the Oshki and Ishkhani monasteries in Turkey. The administration understandably presented this decision as an achievement, but the Georgian Orthodox Church considers the deal unacceptable.

The Patriarchate is primarily taking issue with the format of the negotiations, which it says ignores Georgian legislation dictating that the Church should participate in all such talks. Discussion has been ongoing for two years, and the Georgian government has yet to invite the Patriarchate – even though the Church was strong enough to scuttle a similar agreement three years ago.

In the new deal, which has yet to be formally signed by either government, restoration work will be completed on the Ahmed mosque in Akhaltsikhe, and a new Aziz mosque will be built in Batumi, after its predecessor burnt down last century.

The patriarchate is unhappy because the mosques in Georgia will be under the "ownership" of Muslim organizations, while Georgian sites in Turkey remain under Turkish control, with some Georgian consultation. They call the deal "unfair", especially since UNESCO dictates that it is the responsibility of every state to protect the cultural heritage on its territory – therefore, Turkey should need no such deal in order to restore Georgian churches. The Patriarchate believes that such an agreement was unnecessary.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Turkish Boy Pledges to Suffer for Christ Despite School Beatings

A 12-year-old boy from Turkey whose family converted to Christianity has been beaten and abused by both classmates and teachers after revealing his newfound faith, but the boy says he is happy to suffer for Christ.

Hussein, whose last name was not revealed in the CBN persecution report that shared his story, invoked the anger of his school by wearing a silver cross necklace to school. Christians are a distinct minority in Turkey – the CIA World Factbook reveals that Muslims make up 99.8 percent of the near-80 million population, while Christians and Jews account for only 0.2 percent.

It is not uncommon for Christians in the country to be targeted for their beliefs, but few are as outspoken and as open about their religion as Hussein.

"It's not the physical cross. It's the meaning of the cross that is important. It is a beautiful thing," the boy explained in the report. "I wanted people to ask me about it and then I could tell them about Christ."

As Hussein began going with his father, Hakeem, to church and started wearing his cross at school, his classmates began spitting on him, calling him names and physically abusing him.

"The boy grabbed me by the arm, squeezed my hand, and yelled, 'I'm going to shoot you if you tell about this!'" Hussein shared of one of the attacks.