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.  

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