Thursday, January 31, 2013

Assyrian Monastery in Turkey Becomes Shelter for Syrian Refugees

Syriac [Assyrian] refugees escaping clashes in Syria are temporarily taking shelter in Mardin's Deyrülzafaran Monastery before finding a way to a third country, the metropolitan bishop for Diyabakır and Mardin, Saliba Özmen, has told the Daily News.

Deyrülzafaran Monastery is the first Syriac foundation in Turkey to welcome the Syriac refugees, who have been avoiding refugee camps over security concerns.

The Syriac Union Party, Syriac National Council and Turkey Syriac Associations Federation members have recently conducted meetings with Ankara officials, including officials from the prime ministry, Özmen said, adding that Ankara agreed to provide support.

"We told them of our limited resources and we asked for financial support. Ankara promised to help and will soon begin providing financial support," Özmen said.

Hospitals have also offered to help the monastery with the increasing number of incoming refugees, with the governor's office working with health service officials to provide assistance.

There is no current need for a camp, according to Özmen, as those who arrive in Turkey then move to countries where they have relatives. "We don't have the numbers for a camp, and we don't need one currently."

Turkey Syriac Associations Federation head Evgil Türker said they will continue to maintain contact with the Mardin Governorship to help refugees.

Syria reportedly has around 300,000 Syriacs within its borders.

85-year-old Christian Woman in Turkey Repeatedly Stabbed

MARISSA Kucuk was a little old Armenian lady who lived on her own in Samatya, a picturesque neighbourhood of Istanbul where Christians and Muslims used to rub along peacefully. On December 28th Ms Kucuk, 85, was found dead in her apartment. She had been stabbed, repeatedly. Relatives said a crucifix was carved onto her naked corpse.

Last week, a masked assailant attacked another elderly Armenian as she was entering her apartment. He punched her in the head. When she fell to the ground he began kicking her. "My mother's mouth was filled with blood…the neighbours came to the rescue when she screamed for help and the man fled," Maryam Yelegen, told AGOS, a Turkish Armenian weekly.

The attack marks the fifth in the past two months against elderly Armenian women (one has lost an eye). All of the attacks took place in Samatya, which is home to some 8,000 Armenians and the seat of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. Opinion remains divided as to whether these are organised hate crimes targeting non-Muslims or just random theft. Istanbul's governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, insists that it was the latter. "The incident was inspired by robbery, there were no racial motives. Be sure we will find the perpetrators. Good night," he tweeted to some 100,000 followers.

Some of the victims were, indeed, robbed. The Turkish police are said to be concentrating their investigation on a man in his thirties as a potential suspect. Turkey's Human Rights Association remains unswayed. "The attacks were carried out with racist motives," it concluded in a report that was published last week.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Planned church assassination might signal further attacks

One person was arrested last week in Kocaeli on charges of planning an attack on the İzmit Protestant Church to assassinate its pastor following a round of detentions in the town shortly after the Kocaeli Police foiled the alleged plot, which has brought fears that an illegal group behind many attacks on non-Muslims in 2006 and 2007 is currently highly active.

The discovery is not only very important because it prevented a potential attack, but also shows that groups looking to trigger a coup d’état and who have planned and carried out attacks in the past against non-Muslims as part of a larger plan against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government are still operating.

Not everybody agrees that the recent threats directed at the İzmit church necessarily mean that Ergenekon extensions are making a comeback. Ziya Meral, a London-based Turkish analyst and academic told Sunday’s Zaman in an e-mail interview: “It is not clear whether these individuals are part of a larger network that carried out similar attacks on non-Muslims in the 2003-2008 period. It might well be that this is a local independent initiative.” He said, however, that he did not find the threats surprising, noting: “Last year, there were various false reports in local media that the İzmit area was a target for missionary activities and there were thousands of secret churches in the city. Sadly, years of scapegoating non-Muslims in Turkey and paranoia over activities of non-Muslims continue unchallenged by the courts or the state. It was only a matter of time for various ultranationalist groups to be incited to act on such dangerous media reports and statements by public officials.” He said the role of the overall atmosphere could not possibly be ignored: “While attacks against non-Muslims in Turkey stopped overnight in 2008 when deep-state trials and arrests began, we are seeing a dangerous comeback of attacks and sinister media reporting. This might well be signs of a new play by groups seeking to create unrest, or it might well be the automatic outcome of years of social manipulation through psychological warfare. In other words, this attack might not be directly led by the deep state, but it carries the marks of what they started and sustained.”

But it is clear as day now that past atrocities against non-Muslims, such as the Wealth Tax of the ‘30s, the deportation of Jews in Thrace and the pogroms against Greek Orthodox residents of İstanbul in 1955, the Dink murder, the murder of Father Santoro in Trabzon and the Zirve murders are parts of a long-running campaign by shady groups, says Cemal Uşak, a journalist and writer who is the vice president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV). He said he agreed that recent, almost simultaneous, acts targeting non-Muslims do create the impression that they are part of the same plan and a continuation of it. “Certainly, the judiciary will have the last word on this, but the developments don’t leave us much room to think of this in any other way.” He also noted that a culture of hate that allows viewing one’s fellow citizens as if they are an enemy has been engrained in the subconscious of some segments. “Heinous social engineering can make murderers from this subculture. Ogün Samast [Dink’s shooter] is an example. In the long term, what we should fight is this culture of hate.”

The İzmit Police Department’s counterterrorism unit was monitoring a group in the Çukurbağ neighborhood of İzmit, following the emergence of intelligence indicating that they were gathering information on the İzmit Protestant Church and its İzmit representative, Emre Karaeli. After a lengthy period of surveillance, police conducted an operation to take the suspects into custody on Jan 15. Twelve suspects were detained in the provinces of Kocaeli, Şanlıurfa and Diyarbakır in connection with the group. Six were released; six others were referred to the İstanbul Prosecutor’s Office, while one was arrested by the court and placed in prison.

Speaking about the discovery, Kocaeli Governor Ercan Topaca said the governor’s office has been monitoring the church to ensure the safety of the congregation. He said an attack was planned to take place during a four-day church event between Jan. 17 and Jan. 21. He said the fact that 12 people came together to gather intelligence, make observations about the church and plan the attack is an organized criminal activity.

İstanbul Protestant Church Foundation İzmit representative Emre Karaali said his church’s door was open to everyone. “We don’t ID people who come to the church or do any other kind of questioning.” He said the police work that led to the operation started about a year ago, when he reported receiving threats. Karaali also said there had previously never been threats directed at the church or any of its officials. The church has been active in Kocaeli for 14 years.

He also said there were some he knew among the suspects, saying these were individuals who attended church services and meetings from time to time. “Some of them told us they were Christians. Two of these suspects I know personally. They have played with my kids, spent time with my family, we have broken bread together. What I find odd here is this: Outside, many people might hold biases against us without knowing anything about us at all. Two of the suspects were people we knew, and never ever suspected.” He also thanked the security forces for their good work.

He said his church only sought to serve people trying to live according to their beliefs. “They say everyone thinks of the other in terms of who they are. We have never held any ill will towards anyone, and we don’t think ill thoughts about people. We believe the sincerity of those people who come here. What we are doing here in the end is serving people in the best way we can to help their relationship with God. In this respect, we don’t eye people suspiciously or with worry. Our door is open to anyone who wants to sincerely live their faith, or learn about our faith.”

Zirve killers planned Bible publisher murders well in advance

The brutal massacre of three Christian missionaries who operated the Zirve Publishing House in the city of Malatya in 2007 was planned well ahead of time and in a highly calculated manner, documents found on a computer belonging to a suspect in the killings have revealed.

Police have found a large number of documents that serve as evidence of how the murders were premeditated over a long period of time on a computer seized from the house of gendarmerie intelligence officer Maj. Haydar Yeşil -- one of the suspects in the Zirve trial. The hard drive of the computer includes video footage of the victims, phone conversation recordings belonging to them and a chart that details the organizational structure of Christian missionaries in Malatya.

Victims Necati Aydın and Tilman Geske, a German citizen, had been tagged by the criminal network months prior to the murder, the documents on the computer show. In addition to Geske and Aydın, there is detailed information, complete with pictures and video recordings, of US citizen Ronal Lolgal and Zirve publishing employee Hüseyin Yelki. These individuals were shown on a document supposedly revealing a “missionary organization chart,” created inside the gendarmerie. Some of the photographs found on the hard disk are from Geske's funeral. The killers also had a list of missionaries residing in Turkey with personal information such as their passport numbers and detailed information about their families and residential addresses. Police have established that the documents were created by different members of the Gendarmerie Command in Malatya.

The documents confirm the assertion of co-plaintiff lawyers in the trial that began four years ago that the gendarmerie was actively involved in the killings. The murders are believed to be part of a general plot targeting missionaries, devised either by Ergenekon -- a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government -- or a related organization. Evidence that came out in the trials regarding the 2007 murder of journalist Hrant Dink, the 2006 killing of Father Santoro, an Italian pastor, in Trabzon and other attacks on non-Muslims shows that they are also likely to have come from the same master plan. Prosecutors and lawyers in these trials have found evidence linking these events to each other.

Another police finding was that there was a briefing on the slain missionaries at the Malatya Provincial Gendarmerie Command where a slide presentation was used. During the briefing at the gendarmerie command, detailed information and intelligence work conducted in the city on the missionaries was also given to the gendarmerie officials.

Prosecutors believe that the campaign against missionaries in Malatya and other parts of Turkey was launched by a clandestine and illegal unit called the National Strategies and Operations Department of Turkey (TUSHAD), allegedly established in 1993 by former four-star Gen. Hurşit Tolon, who is one of the key suspects in the Ergenekon trial. Last week, the Malatya court hearing the Zirve trial ordered Tolon's arrest based on the evidence found on the computer at Yeşil's office.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Assassination bid on Kocaeli pastor foiled

Police in Kocaeli have prevented an alleged assassination attempt against Emre Karaali, the northwestern province’s only known Protestant pastor, detaining 12 men and seizing a number of weapons.

Karaali said the police confiscated guns, detailed records of his daily routine, a schedule of religious ceremonies, as well as a layout of the İzmit Protestant Church and his house, in a recent raid against suspected assailants. Six of the detained were released on Jan. 18, while the remaining six were testifying in court when the Daily News went to print.

“Some of the detainees periodically used to come to our services, and some others were not familiar at all. Police told me that people in this organization had ties with another city and someone from another country, but they did not name them,” Karaali told the Daily News on Jan. 18 over the phone.

Karaali said he had been receiving threats over the phone for nearly a year. The İzmit Protestant Church was founded as the first church in the city in 1999, the same year a massive earthquake killed 40,000 in Kocaeli, whose administrative center is İzmit.

Some locals had criticized the church at the beginning, accusing it of missionary intentions.

The church was preparing for four days of celebrations between Jan. 17 and 21 and had invited top local officials in the city before the plot was revealed.

On Jan. 15, local daily Çağdaş Kocaeli had criticized the church for “overrating” the event’s announcement.

“Many citizens who did not even know that there was a church in İzmit until yesterday, found out about the existence of the İzmit Protestant Church after leaflets were delivered to buildings and postboxes. It is not known how many members this mentioned church has, but the event was announced in the leaflets day by day,” the daily said in an anonymously published announcement, adding that some locals had become “annoyed” by the leaflets.

The report also accused the church of missionary activity and of aiming to detach local youth from Islam and bring them toward Christianity.

Zeynep Kübra Özçiçek, the daily’s managing editor, said her paper had made no attempt to target the church or Protestants but had only sought to convey that their readers were irritated.

“Our readers asked us to take the local mufti’s opinion. … The mufti did not make any comment, but invitations were sent to all the local brass in the city; this was not ordinary,” Özçiçek told the Daily News on Jan. 18.

Karaali, who has been living in İzmit since 2009, said he had never had any problems with locals but noted that ultranationalist writer Banu Avar had alleged on May 20, 2012, during a book fair in the city that İzmit had been chosen as a “pilot city by Christians to make Turks Protestants.” The comments were subsequently published in many papers, as well as the Kocaeli Municipality’s website.

Karaali said they filed a criminal complaint, but the court found Avar not guilty. Similar incidents occurred before the Zirve Publishing House massacre in Malatya in 2007, Karaali said.

Although the church was founded 14 years ago, the İzmit Protestant Church has only 20 members, Karaali said.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Police break up plot to assassinate Turkish pastor

Police in Turkey say they thwarted an assassination plot against a Christian pastor Tuesday when they arrested 14 suspects, two of whom had been part of his congregation for more than a year.

Emre Karaali, pastor of Izmit Protestant Church and the target of the alleged plot, said two of the arrested suspects were regular members, feigning interest in Christianity. One of them, he said, participated in a baptism in July.

Some of the other suspects also had visited the church, Karaali told World Watch Monitor. He said three of the suspects are women.

“These people had infiltrated our church and collected information about me, my family and the church and were preparing an attack against us,” said Karaali, 33, a native Turk and a convert to Christianity. “Two of them attended our church for over a year and they were like family.”

Accounts of the arrests in Turkish media reported that the suspects were planning to murder Karaali this week during a series of evangelistic outreach meetings.

“They caught them last minute,” said Hakan Tastan, an Istanbul Christian who was visiting Izmit Wednesday. “If they had waited one week, we would have lost them,” he said, referring to the pastor, his family and potentially other church members.

The 14 had collected personal information, copies of personal documents, created maps of the church and the pastor’s home, and had photos of those who had come to Izmit to preach. In one of the homes raided by police, two guns were found, Turkish media reported. Police have recorded the telephone conversations of the 14 suspects.

Press reports said the Izmit anti-terror police decided to close in when they learned the network of suspects had brought in someone from Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey, to carry out the murder.

The police are not talking about the arrests, claiming their investigation is ongoing.

Karaali said he learned about the arrests reading the morning newspaper Wednesday. Later that day, he said, the police called him in for questioning and a briefing that lasted more than five hours.

He said police showed him photos of some of the 12 suspects who, unlike the remaining two suspects, had not been regularly attending the church. He said he recognized some of the 12 as occasional visitors. Karaali said his treatment at the hands of the police was “exceptional.”

The pastor said he has been working with police since January 2012, when he informed them of a death threat he had received.

“I received a threat by phone and that’s when the police started to investigate,” Karaali said. It’s not yet publicly known whether any of the suspects arrested Tuesday are connected to that initial phone threat.

Karaali said he declined police protection that was offered at that time, though his wife and two young children did move into an apartment building with better security. Another threat was made during the summer.

“They said, ‘You talk too much. We’re hearing your voice everywhere and we’re going to break your head.’ They didn’t say they’ll kill me exactly, but that if I didn’t shut up it would be bad.” Police have not revealed whether any of the 14 suspects arrested this week are suspected of making the threat.

Izmit, about 100 miles east of Istanbul, is the heart of an industrial region of about 1 million people, known for the devastation it faced in the earthquake of 1999 that claimed thousands of lives. The Izmit Protestant Church, operating for 13 years, is a small congregation, ministering to 20 people, all of whom are Turkish converts to Christianity. Karaali and his wife have served the church for four years, in an environment he described as difficult.Link

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Most Persecuted Religion in the World

Christianity is facing elimination in its Biblical homeland. Between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have departed or been killed over the past century. Short attributes the intolerance and violence towards Christians to the rising Islamicization of Middle Eastern countries. Some of the oppression is government sanctioned and some government permitted; most is government ignored.

We can move more quickly through the countries. Consider apostasy laws in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Iran, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Sudan and Malaysia. By apostasy, read "Muslim convert to Christianity." Of the plight of apostates, Ziya Meral, a London-based Turkish scholar, writes: "Apostates are subject to gross and wide-ranging human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings by state-related agents or mobs; honour killings by family members; detention, imprisonment, torture, physical and psychological intimidation by security forces; the denial of access to judicial services and social services; the denial of equal employment or education opportunities; social pressure resulting in loss of housing and employment; and day-to-day discrimination and ostracism in education, finance and social activities."

We have scarcely skimmed the surface of violence and intolerance to Christians in Muslims worlds. If it should continue at its present rate, Christianity will very soon be completely eradicated in its homeland. While the cultural loss is deeply worrisome, the lack of liberty, intolerance and violence in Muslim countries is even more worrisome. Reports by the Freedom House think-tank echo this concern: religious liberties are most threatened in Muslim-majority countries.

Christianity is not, as Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury reminds us, an import to these countries. The Christian communities that are now being threatened and even wiped out are nearly as old as the New Testament itself. Christians have called these countries home for two millennia; Christianity is not a Western imposition on historically Islamic countries.

Why has the tragedy of Christians in the Muslim world been ignored? Short blames this on the media's fear that criticizing Muslims is tantamount to racism. I attribute it as well to secular media's lack of interest in and sometimes even scorn for religious belief.

Western media must overcome its fear of criticizing Muslims and its disinterest in religious belief. Religious liberties are the most fundamental human liberties -- they are indicators of a country's political willingness to allow people to choose their own way of life. In countries were religious liberty is conspicuously absent, one is likely to find a host of other liberties threatened as well.

Finally, the U.S. government must actively defend Christian liberty in Muslim-majority countries. While no U.S. politician worth his or her salt would deny the right to a Jewish state in the Middle East, so, too, no politician worth his or her salt should ignore the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Sadly, in the Middle East both Judaism and Christianity are threatened by Muslim extremists intent on violently recreating the world in their own image.