Friday, December 12, 2014

Suspect confusion at Kadıköy Church arson case

Arson, not an accident, was the cause of the fire that broke out on the night of December 7, Sunday, at the building that is home to KKBD (Holy Bible Society) and KUT (Kadıköy International Community Church). According to Pam Ohanyan of KUT, thousands of Holy Books and CDs were destroyed in the fire that broke out on the floor where the library of the church was also located.

The local newspaper ‘KadıköyLife’ had previously claimed that the fire on the night of December 7 had been caused by a short cut in the electricity supply to the Christmas tree. However the security camera recordings of the building the church and association are located in have revealed that a suspect broke into the building and the fire began while the suspect was in the building.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Turkish Public Education System to Offer Class in Christianity for First Time

The Turkish education system's mandatory religion classes are not fair to students who do not follow the country's majority Sunni Islam and it must amend its policies, according to a recent verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), reports World Watch Monitor.

As Turkey is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR decision is binding.

Religion classes, starting in elementary schools, are according to the Turkish Constitution to be neutral lessons on religion, but critics say they impose Sunni Muslim rituals in class that many Turks - including non-Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists - don't espouse.

Turkey is a secular Muslim state, with almost 97% of the population nominally Muslim.

While Sunni Muslims represent about 70-80%, about 15-25% of the 75 million population are Alevi, a mystical school of Shia Islamic theology. This makes them the country's largest religious minority, though they are not recognized as such.

Turkey insists that their differences are cultural, and thus does not grant them exemption from religion classes.

However, in September the ECHR ordered Turkey to allow students to be exempt from classes when their parents request it, without them having to disclose their religious beliefs.

Then on Oct. 9 the Education Minister Nabi Avci announced that Turkish schools will soon offer an elective in Christianity. However, currently Christians and Jews are in fact exempt from the compulsory courses offered from fourth grade, age 9, and throughout high school. By conservative estimates there are under 100,000 Christians in Turkey.

Religious freedoms expert, Mine Yildirim, of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) for Human Rights says that this announcement, though a welcome move towards diversity and inclusion, seems to entirely miss the point of the European Court's verdict.

"Adding Christianity as an optional course does not address any of the outstanding and important freedom of religion or belief problems in the education system," Yildirim told World Watch Monitor. Yildirim is the project head of the NHC Freedom of Belief Initiative for Turkey.

Though the decision of the ECHR is binding on Turkey, its top leaders brushed off the court ruling, provoking criticism and protests. Prime Minister Davutoglu defended the Islamic religion curriculum saying "it is a requirement for an atheist to know about religious culture, just like I should know about Marxism even though I'm not a Marxist," Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the ECHR ruling calling it wrong and saying drug use, violence and racism will spread if the classes on religion are put to an end. "If compulsory courses on religion are challenged, why do they complain about drugs or terrorism?" he said, according to Today's Zaman.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Domestic Violence in Turkey

This is an issue that effects all facets of society.  Please be in prayer for these women and the Church as it attempts to reach out to them:

Domestic violence is considered a personal, not a public, matter. So witnesses comfortably turn the other way if they see a man beating a woman in the middle of the street, because this is a private matter. On May 3, a 26-year-old woman was beaten to death in broad daylight in Mugla province.
Scream if you are attacked was the only viable advice AKP government provided for victims. The victim screamed — as Family Minister Aysenur Islam had previously advised children to do if they were attacked — but the AKP minister’s magical formula failed the victim. The perpetrator was her fiance. There were multiple witnesses. None of them thought it was appropriate to intervene. On Sept. 9, a pregnant woman was brutally beaten on a busy Istanbul street and no one intervened.
One of the female witnesses, Nazen, 64, told Al-Monitor, “We do not want to be involved in a private family matter. It is between a man and a woman. A woman is like a fig tree. If a branch is infested with worms, you must cut the tree or your entire orchard will be lost.” Nazen’s view of women’s purity is widely accepted in Turkey.

Read more:


Friday, September 05, 2014

Turkish minister: Christianity no longer a religion

Christianity has ceased to be a religion but has become a culture of its own, Turkish Environment and Urbanism Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar said at a recent conference hosted by the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Women's Group. 
"The biggest three countries in the world are not Muslim countries. China, India – only the U.S. believes in a single God. Spirituality and religious feelings are weakening," Bayraktar said.
"There are 2.5 billion Christians in the world," Bayraktar said. "Christianity is no longer a religion. It's a culture now. But that is not what a religion is like. A religion teaches; it is a form of life that gives one peace and happiness. That is what they want to turn [Islam] into as well."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Learn more about the Yazidi

 Thousands of people leaving their ancestral homeland. Women and children being kidnapped, raped, and sold as slaves. Men slaughtered by the dozens.

While this sounds like something from the Armenian Genocide, it is going on in the world as I write. In Northern Iraq, where the Babylonians and Assyrians once ruled vast empires, the Islamic State (IS) has been waging a genocidal war against the defenseless Yazidi people.

The IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/al-Sham/the Levant), is a descendant of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group the U.S. Army fought against for almost a decade. Taking advantage of the Syrian Civil War, the IS swept through Syria in 2013, capturing towns from Kurds, Syrian government forces, and other rebels. The IS continued to grow this year, and expanded operations into Iraq. Coupled with an Iraqi Army retreat, the IS’s advance led to gains just outside of Baghdad, hundreds of miles from where it started its rampage. After capturing Mosul in the north, Iraq’s second largest city, the IS started to consolidate its gains. Ethnic Yazidis, fleeing from almost certain death, collected on Mount Sinjar, and were soon surrounded by IS forces. Facing starvation, heat stroke in the 100-degree Iraqi sun, and massacres, the Yazidis became a sort of call to action.

As their history is mostly based in oral tradition, Yazidis are often misunderstood. Most scholars identify the Yazidis as a subset of Kurds, as Yazidis speak Kurmanji, the most spoken dialect of Kurdish. A complex syncretism blending elements of Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism, the Yazidi faith is based on the idea that God created the world and entrusted it to seven angels. One of these angels, Melek Taus, refused to obey God’s command to bow down to humanity, which is where many see the connection to the Biblical story of Satan. Melek Taus, usually represented by a peacock, became the most venerated of the seven angels after God forgave him. According to Prof. Keith Watenpaugh of UC Davis, “Over the last several centuries mainstream Sunni Islamic scholars have come to view the Yazidis as pagans—they are not considered people of the book (ahl al-Kitab); they are popularly viewed by many Muslims in Syria and Iraq as worshippers of the devil. This was the basis for their on again off again persecution by the Ottoman authorities through much of the last 500 years. The Salafist idealism of the IS takes a very hardline position on Yazidis as kafirs—unbelievers.”

Iraqi Christians, however, are seen as “of the book,” since Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share many common beliefs, such as monotheism. Because of this, the IS, as was done by the Ottoman Empire and other Islamic nations, has instituted a jizya tax system in some parts of their territories. Christians can pay a tax, often the equivalent of thousands of dollars per year, to continue their religious practices, although many churches, including Armenian ones (for example, St. Etchmiadzin in Mosul, and the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs), have been either destroyed or converted to Islamic centers.

The exorbitant sums of money the IS asks for are simply too much for most Christian families, who have fled their homes en masse. The IS has already killed close to a thousand Yazidis, according to the Iraqi government. It was the Yazidis that were penned up on Mount Sinjar, waiting for an imminent death in the 100-degree heat, trying to pile onto creaky Soviet-era helicopters in an attempt to escape. Some Yazidis marched through the Syrian Desert, away from their homes, the opposite direction marched by Armenians 99 years ago, yet under strikingly similar circumstances.

The world answered the Yazidis’ calls for help, as American airstrikes combined with attacks from the Kurdish Peshmerga broke down the IS’s siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing for thousands to escape. “The Yazidis are facing genocide and the limited Kurdish forces were having a very difficult time defending both Arbil and rescuing Yazidi and other civilians. … American intervention was justified by the civilizational imperative to prevent genocide,” Watenpaugh told the Weekly. With the United Kingdom and France, along with the United States, taking leading roles in humanitarian aid, the United Nations declared the situation in Iraq a humanitarian emergency, and has called for aid from around the world. Military aid, although committed to by many nations, has only started to funnel in, with Iranian arms just reaching the Peshmerga this week.

Watenpaugh noted that there is a degree of hypocrisy to the American position: The Yazidis were facing genocide, but Arab tribesmen just across the border in Syria were being massacred at the same time and the U.S. was unwilling to help. The U.S. has no cooperative, “on the ground” partner that is competent in the way the Kurdish Peshmerga are. American decision-making in Syria is still being guided by the mistaken belief that the Free Syrian Army represents a viable alternative to both the IS and the government of Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. faces no good options or easy answers in Syria; it does in Iraq.

Estimates of the Yazidi population range from 200,000 to 700,000, with the vast majority in Iraq, although that may not be the case for long. With tens of thousands already fleeing the reach of the IS, others are certain to follow. The Yazidi village of Lalish, located on the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, where every Yazidi makes a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, has not been attacked by the IS. However, being just about 40 miles to the northeast of Mosul, the village is susceptible to brutality from the self-proclaimed caliphate. The IS has already destroyed religious sites of various faiths, including Muslim ones, in cites they view as idolatrous. Earlier this summer, the IS destroyed the tomb of the Prophet Jonah, an important figure in the Abrahamic faiths.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Baptist church leaders from 120 countries gather in İzmir for congress

The heads of Baptist churches from 120 countries gathered in the Aegean province of İzmir for a congress on “religious tourism” July 8.

Around 600 national and international guests attended the first session of “Religious Tourism Meeting of Civilizations” in Turkey, where the main topic of discussion centered on the importance of religious tourism.

The opening speech was delivered by Ertan Çevik, the Turkish representative of world’s Baptist churches and the head of the Turkey’s Protestant Baptist Church.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) İzmir lawmakers Aytun Çıray and Mehmet Ali Susam, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) İzmir lawmaker Rıfat Sait and İzmir Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu were among the participants.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


"We will remove the foreigners dominating our market and hand over the Turkish market to Turks." This is how 1942-1946 Republican People's Party (CHP) government's Prime Minister Şükrü Saraçoğlu described the purpose of the capital tax introduced in 1942. These words explicitly summarize the approach toward the Turkish Republic's non-Muslim citizens by the CHP and the Kemalist ideology governing the state during the era of single-party rule: a totalitarian state mentality of policies to standardize society and create a homogenous nation by ignoring all diversity. Citizens of different religions endured some of the most discrimination from such policies – Armenians, Assyrians, Christians and Jews – those who did not qualify as the system's definition of a proper citizen were considered as a threat. 

In 1934, 15,000 Jewish residents had to leave their cities and even their country of residence as a result of the systematic pogroms against the Jews living in the Thrace region. In 1942, the capital tax law was introduced. According to this law, minorities constituting 1.98 percent of Turkish population according to the 1935 census were charged with 87 percent of the taxes accrued. The real aim was to reduce the influence of the minority communities and the elimination of their dominant status from the economy. In 1955, Greeks in particular had become victims of serious oppression as a result of the plunder and ravage movement, which is known as the Events of Sept. 6-7. In 1962, a Provisional Commission on Minorities, which was tasked to "track all transactions of minorities contrary to the national security," was established with a confidential memorandum. This commission was established to monitor the activities of non-Muslims and it served as the modus operandi of the systematic discriminatory policies. In consequence of such policies, thousands of residents had to leave their country, their goods were seized, and their schools and sanctuaries shut down. 

In 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) became the ruling government with the support of Turks, Kurds as well as members of non-Muslim minority communities. Since the party took office, the government has pursued reforms aimed at democratizing the totalitarian state while being exposed to severe attacks and facing many allegations. The most striking attacks came from the groups who consider themselves the modern face of the nation. This segment of Turkish society claimed they were the Western side of Turkish society simply due to their secular lifestyle. 

Today, referring to the restitution of foundation assets, Mr. Erdoğan says, "These assets are not mine! So it's my fundamental duty to return them to their owners." He assesses the restitution of rights and reputation as a requirement of equal citizenship – law and justice – as opposed to the condescending attitude of the opposition. While doing this, he assumes risk contrary to the cautious state of mind stemming from the government and confronts criticism and exorbitant accusations that could even be considered conspiracy. All in all, an outburst by a former CHP parliamentarian toward AK Party members is still remembered: "You keep defending Agop's possessions, please at least once defend Mehmet's possessions." It should also be remembered that the Law on Foundations issued by the AK Party government in 2006 was partially vetoed by then President Sezer on the grounds that it was against national interests. Furthermore, this year a member of Parliament from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in reaction to the restitution of foundation assets said, "We will take them all back." 

There is no such thing as a perfect democracy in the world as there are always deficiencies and more things to be done. For instance, the opening of the Theological School in Heybeliada is one of the present demands expected to be fulfilled in the future. What matters and what makes these processes functional is the demonstrated will to find a solution and the gratitude shown in return. Today, the AK Party and Erdoğan are pointed to by the very interlocutors of the problem as they address the solutions regarding the demands of non-Muslim citizens. Erdogan returned the assets of Christians and Jews previously confiscated by the state, published a message of condolences to Armenians for the 1915 Events, allowed the reopening of minority schools and monasteries, and enacted laws for combating hate crimes and discrimination. To our Western friends who declare the AK Party government as radical Islamists, ISIS supporter, anti-secular and authoritarian: We will pray for the removal of the curtains of prejudice from your eyes during the month of Ramadan.

Ankara criticizes 'anti-Turkish' bill on Christian properties

Turkey has strongly criticized a U.S. House committee bill that directs the State Department to monitor the return of property confiscated from Christians in Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

"While the clear and concrete steps that Turkey has taken for the improvement of the rights and freedoms of all of its citizens, including for the non-Muslim minorities are evident; attempts by anti-Turkish circles in the U.S. Congress, driven by domestic political considerations, to push such unconstructive and baseless initiatives are unacceptable," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement June 27.

The bill, which passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, requires the U.S. secretary of state to provide an annual report to Congress regarding Washington's efforts to secure the return and restoration of "stolen, confiscated, or otherwise unreturned Christian properties" in Turkey and the northern Cyprus.

Terming the bill as "null and void as far as Turkey is concerned," the statement stressed that such initiatives were incongruous with the existing spirit of partnership and alliance between the two traditional allies.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Christianity in Ataturk’s Capital

In Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, attending Mass on Sunday requires choosing between several embassies: the Italian, French, and Vatican properties each host Catholic chapels.

The British Embassy has a lovely Anglican church in its backyard while the Greek Embassy harbors a small Orthodox place of worship. Some Protestants hold services at a local U.S. military facility and evangelical denominations are said to rent office space.

But nowhere, in this metropolis of 5 million, will you find a free standing Christian church naming itself with a cross out front.

The situation results from a twist of history — and discrimination.

Kemal was elected president and renamed Ataturk (father of the Turks) by parliament. He initiated radical social changes aimed at converting Turkey into a secular republic.

Focusing on religion, he dismantled the Islamic power structure, put all mosques under state control, banned religious education, and restricted sacred construction. While private worship was constitutional, religion was eliminated from the public sphere.

This anti-religion ideology made it impossible for the Catholic Church to build new churches in a city such as Ankara, which had none.

Another problem facing Catholics since Ataturk is that the faith has no legal status: the Church can’t officially own property or operate churches, schools, or hospitals. 

Armenians, Jews, and Orthodox Christians are classified as Non-Muslim minorities, with some rights grounded in the 1923 Lausanne treaty, but Catholics have been excluded from protection.  

Read More

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Committee Vote on Turkey Christian Churches Scheduled

 The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, under the leadership of Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), is set to consider H.R. 4347, the Turkey Christian Churches Accountability Act, on Wednesday, June 18th at 10:00 am EST. Capitol Hill sources report that the Turkish Government is actively seeking to block adoption of this bipartisan religious freedom measure.

Introduced this March of this year by Chairman Royce along with the panel’s Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY), H.R. 4347 would require that the U.S. Department of State formally report to Congress on an annual basis about the status of Turkey’s return of stolen Christian churches and properties in Turkey and occupied Cyprus. H.R. 4347 builds on a measure (H.Res.306), spearheaded by Chairman Royce and then House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA), which was overwhelmingly adopted by the House of Representatives on December 13, 2011. That resolution set the groundwork for H.R.4347 by calling upon the government of Turkey to honor its international obligations to return confiscated Christian church properties and to fully respect the rights of Christians to practice their faiths.

“We want to thank Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for advancing this religious freedom legislation and look forward to the Committee’s consideration of a principled and practical American stand in support of the rights of Christians in present-day Turkey and occupied Cyprus to practice their faith in their own houses of worship,” said ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian. “We are pleased to join with all believers in religious freedom – including of course our Cypriot, Greek, Pontian and Syriac brothers and sisters – in supporting this measure, and encourage all our friends to urge their legislators to support its timely passage by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the full House of Representatives.”

Monday, June 09, 2014

Church Website Blocked As 'Porn' by Turkish Parliament; Lawmaker Calls it ‘Embarrassing, Humiliating and Defaming’

Aykan Erdemir, a member of Turkey's Parliament, planned to travel to Diyarbakir Church in mid-June. In preparation for his visit, he looked for information about the church on their website. He did not get far. His office computer in the parliament building blocked the church website with a message that it contained "pornographic" content.

Checking the websites of other Turkish Protestant churches, Erdemir and his colleagues found them all blocked, though the filtering screens did not mention "pornography" as the reason.

Although websites are occasionally banned in Turkey - the most notable in recent months being YouTube - the website for Diyarbakir Church, in southeastern Turkey, is not under a national ban.

The block only affected computers in the parliament, and it was quickly removed after Erdemir complained.

"The lifting of the block on the Diyarbakir Church website was a small step for internet freedoms in Turkey, but a big step for internet freedom in the Parliament," he said. Erdemir, who represents the western province of Bursa in the main opposition Republican People's Party, said the episode is a symptom of deep-rooted governmental antagonism toward Christians, especially Protestants, and of Turkey's increasing intolerance towards minorities.

He described the block on the website as, "humiliating, embarrassing and defaming." The newspaper Daily Hurriyet reported Thursday that the filter killed two birds with one stone-it simultaneously worked to prejudice Parliamentarians and to attack minority groups.

"They are just trying to support their own party's politics and agendas with inflammatory and marginalizing language," said Ahmet Guvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Church. "This is embarrassing and outrageous and they should apologize for this." Guvener, a convert from Islam, said he does not feel he has equal rights with other Turks, and that his country regards him as a threat. His phone, he said, has been tapped since 2007, when three Christians were tortured and murdered in the city of Malatya.

"They have been listening to my phone without a break since Malatya," Guvener said. He claims to have seen his name on wiretap lists, and that police continue to question him about subjects he has discussed on the phone with other Christian believers.

He believes that law enforcement authorities consider Christianity to be one of the country's greatest threats, and that military training has reinforced an attitude of marginalization. "They really don't see Turkish Christians as citizens of this country," he said. "Turkey knowingly intimidates Christians here, so in my opinion, the block on our website was done knowingly."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Big-city Turkey elects 25-year-old Christian woman as mayor

A 25-year-old student has burst onto the political scene in Turkey as the first Christian woman to govern a metropolitan city in this predominantly Muslim republic.

Put forward as a candidate by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Turkey’s main Kurdish party, in municipal elections on March 30, Februniye Akyol was elected co-mayor of the southeastern city of Mardin together with Ahmet Turk, 71, a widely respected veteran Kurdish leader. The BDP splits all top posts between a man and a woman to boost female participation in politics.
“The Kurdish party has enabled me to fight for my people and its rights, and this is what I am going to do,” Akyol told Al-Monitor in an interview in Mardin this week. “I’m not here as an ornament.”
Akyol, the daughter of a silversmith, is a member of the Syriac community, an ancient branch of the Christian faith whose followers still speak a version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. The region of Tur Abdin near Mardin, a plateau dotted with monasteries that go back to the fourth century, is the Syriacs’ historical heartland.
Turkey has had Christian mayors of smaller towns before, and in 2011 the Syriac politician Erol Dora, also running on a BDP ticket, became the first Christian member of parliament in Ankara since the 1960s. But Akyol is the first Christian to govern one of Turkey’s 30 metropolitan municipalities.
The Syriac community, which numbered around 200,000 people in Tur Abdin a century ago, was decimated by the massacres of Anatolian Christians during World War I, when Syriacs shared the fate of the Armenians. In the decades that followed, many survivors and their descendants fled poverty, persecution and the war between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels in the region to settle in Europe. Today, a total of 150,000 Syriacs live in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Some 15,000 are in Istanbul, but less than 5,000 remain in Tur Abdin.
Although Turkey began issuing appeals for Syriacs to return to their homeland in the early 2000s and strengthened social and religious rights under the country’s EU membership application, Akyol said her community did not yet enjoy full democratic privileges. “Syriacs here are still not free, they can’t live in peace,” Akyol said.
The newly elected mayor’s own name is a case in point. Born and christened Fabronia Benno, she had to run for office under her official Turkish name, Februniye Akyol, because of long-standing restrictions on the cultures and languages of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey. Since the Syriacs are not officially recognized as a religious minority by the Turkish state, they are not allowed their own schools to teach their ancient language to their children. Many Syriac villages were destroyed in the war between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a rebel group fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Turkey torture, murder suspects under house arrest

Turkey`s Ministry of Justice has ordered five murder suspects in the 2007 torture and murder of five employees of a publishing house to be electronically tagged and held under house arrest.
Three employees of the Zirve Publishing House were attacked, tortured and murdered by five people in 2007 in Malatya, Turkey

Monday, March 10, 2014

Five suspects of Zirve massacre released, Christians anxious

As per a recently passed law that decreased the maximum period of detention to five years, five suspects tried for brutally killing three Christians at the Zirve Publishing House were released pending trial on Friday, a move that has made Christians in Turkey concerned for their safety.

The Association of Protestant Churches of Turkey expressed its concern over the court's decision in a written statement on Saturday. Noting that families of the victims and NGO activists were threatened by the suspects throughout the duration of the case's hearings, the statement read: “As things stand, those who have been threatened are starting to feel rather uneasy. The releases have deeply saddened Christians [in Turkey] and led to them losing faith in [the] justice [system].”

Noting that the suspects of the murder will now be able to move freely in society, the statement continued: “Who will carry the moral responsibility for this shocking decision? … As Christian citizens, our own lives as well as those of our families' are in great danger, and we are following the developments in dismay.”

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Malatya murder suspects to be set free

Five Turkish murder suspects on trial for torturing and killing three Christians in Malatya nearly seven years ago are expected to be set free on bail within the next few days, before the conclusion of their trial in southeast Turkey.
Under a new judicial package passed by the Turkish Parliament on Feb. 21, the detention limit for suspects on trial who have not yet been convicted was reduced from 10 to five years. Once the proposed laws are approved by the Turkish President and published in the Official Gazette— expected at the latest by March 7— the five Malatya suspects would be eligible for immediate release.
Susanne Geske, widow of the German victim Tilmann Geske, admitted that “the thought of meeting one of these men downtown, or at the mall” until the trial is concluded was something she and her children still living in Malatya would “have to get used to”.
Because the suspects face a life sentence for deadly assault, the likelihood that they will flee the country “is very high”, Umut Sahin announced in a written statement from the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey. Although Sahin told World Watch Monitor that the lawyers representing the victims’ families have requested that the five suspects be fitted with electronic tracking devices when released, he said any formal conditions of their bail would be decided by the court.
“But even that is unclear, as to what court that will be,” Sahin admitted, since the same legal package has also abolished the Special Authorized Courts under which the Malatya suspects were being tried.
During the past four years, some 20,000 military personnel, members of the Kurdish party, journalists and a variety of activists were convicted in these special anti-terrorism courts of planning alleged coup attempts against the ruling Justice and Development Party government.
Once the special courts are dissolved, the Malatya case will be moved into the normal criminal court system, with the likelihood that the current judges and prosecutors would be changed. Practically speaking, that would require the new officials assigned to the case to go through more than 100,000 pages of documents submitted during the trial’s 92 hearings to date.
“So the whole process could last some more years,” said Geske, who told World Watch Monitor that she hoped the case would be left with the current judicial officials and finished soon.
“It’s the law now,” she said, “so we can’t really do anything about it,” referring to both the changed court status and the pending release of the murder suspects. “We’re fine, and my kids are doing well. Some in our church here are really upset. But God can do miracles, so we are praying that the judges and prosecutor will not be changed. And we will keep on loving our enemies.”
During the last Malatya court hearing on Feb. 24, defense lawyers tried for two hours to block the reading of the prosecutor’s final appeal for sentencing of the accused killers and perpetrators, demanding that this be postponed until the new law went into effect.
But Presiding Judge Hayrettin Kisa, who has declared his firm intention to conclude the case by June, denied the defense’s request.
State Prosecutor Zafer Hazar then read out his closing statement, demanding three consecutive life sentences against the five accused killers, as well as life sentences against nine of the accused perpetrators.
In addition, the state requested that one suspect who had turned state's evidence be judged according to the Active Repentance Law, and that two accused accomplices who were never detained be acquitted.
The prosecution summation cited evidence that the Malatya murders were clearly linked to the previous assassinations of two other Christians in Turkey: Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on January 2007 in front of his Agos newspaper office in Istanbul, and Italian Catholic priest Andrea Santoro while kneeling at the altar of his Trabzon church on February 2006. Links were cited to the JITEM and TUSHAD units, allegedly formed illegally within various Turkish military forces to create disinformation and eliminate enemies of the state.
When the Malatya case is set to reconvene on April 10, the defense will be allowed a final statement. A subsequent hearing is expected to be scheduled for the verdicts to be announced.