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."