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.”