Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Turkish authorities ask tiny Christian community to help Yezidi refugees

As a Turkish Christian, Ender Peker is used to facing hostility from religious Muslims, particularly because he lives in Turkey’s conservative southeast. So he was shocked last fall when an imam asked him to take over food distribution at a nearby refugee camp.
"He said to me, 'I want you to talk to them and distribute food to them.' He was glad to give me this responsibility," Peker told World Watch Monitor.
The "them" the imam referred to are Iraqi Yezidis. As a monotheistic religion that includes elements of ancient Iranian religions, Christianity and Islam, Yezidis are so unorthodox that most Muslims have traditionally derided them as "devil worshippers." So when, along with other Iraqis fleeing Islamic State attacks, traumatized Yezidis escaped to Turkey last summer in the thousands, they were afraid to live among Iraqi Muslims in refugee camps set up by the Turkish national government.
So the Diyarbakir Protestant Church stepped in to help the Yezidis soon after they arrived, many living in a city park. The local government placed others in empty schools or municipal buildings. Church members visited them, donating blankets and food.
In August the Church helped the local government establish the first Yezidi refugee camp in a former airplane hangar. Members donated 50 large tents that had been used for its summer church camps.
This opportunity was an unexpected one for such a small Turkish church with only 65 members. But it began a process of reconciliation between the tiny Protestant community and local authorities who had been mistrustful of it, and even hostile in the recent past
"They thought we would come to offer aid, but then leave just as quickly. We stayed. They complimented us, that we did what we said we would do," Peker said.
Peker is one of a group of foreign and Turkish Christians providing substantial, ongoing aid to Yezidis. Nearly all their relief efforts are channeled through Diyarbakir Protestant Church, a hub for evangelical Christianity in the region. Led by Pastor Ahmet Guvener, the church has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from Turkish and foreign churches to help refugees.
Yezidis initially rebuffed help from government workers in Turkey, due to their lingering trauma from Islamic State attacks. In July 2014 the IS jihadists attacked their historical home of Mt. Sinjar in northern Iraq, where thousands of Iraqi men, women and children of the Yezidi religion have been killed, raped and enslaved. The extremists regard Yezidis as infidels who, according to Islamic law, should be killed.