Â Hrant Dink Day in London, 2009
The second anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assasination was marked in London by a silent vigil in front of The Turkish Embassy at 1.00p.m. and a commemmorative meeting in the UK parliament in the evening, which consisted of two parts. The first part included a presentation by Elif Kalaycioglu on Hrant Dink’s Legacy in Turkey.
Â The second part centered on the cultural rights of minorities in Turkey under the theme of “Turkey, respect your Minorities”, with a focus on the Syriac/Assyrian community in Turkey.The participants in the second part were Yacoub Ghattas of the Syriac Church, Abdulmessih Barabrahem (from Germany) of the Assyrian Democratic Organisation, Sabri Atman of Seyfo Centre, John Pontifex of the Catholic Organisation Aid to the Church in Need, and Rebwar Fatah, editor of Kurdish Media.
Â The sponsor of the meeting was Andrew Dismore MP. Archbishop Toma Dawood of the Syriac Church was also present as were Baroness Harris and Maral Dink (niece of Hrant).
Deacon Yacoub Ghattas described the problems of the Syriac community in the Tur Abdin region of Turkey, especially the threats against Mor Gabriel Monastery. Rebwar Fatah, editor of Kurdish Media, spoke about Hrant Dink’s signifigance in the wider context of free speech and minority issues in the Middle-East
Hope Against Hope? : Hrant Dink’s Legacy and Civil Society in Turkey
by Elif Kalaycioglu
On the day of Hrant Dink’s funeral, I was part of a small group of translators organized around Agos to assist foreign journalists. Aside from the sporadic news that reached us about Rakel Dink’s deeply moving speech and the sheer number of people, estimated to be around 100,000, that had come together to mourn, say their farewells and also to show their solidarity, I did not witness the silent march of that day. What I saw instead was mostly the older members of the Armenian community that started coming to the church from the early hours of the morning and the feeling of sadness and loneliness that they communicated. As Hrant Dink’s family and friends arrived at the church, walking through a human chain of young Armenians, I remember standing next to two women. One of them pointed to Etyen MahÃ§upyan, who has since then become the editor-in-chief of Agos, and said to her friend, “He is all we have left.”
But weren’t there thousands who were at the same time walking in silent mourning, trying to show precisely that they were not alone? Didn’t the solemn black placards of the day say “we are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink.” Indeed, in the conversations I had with family and friends, mostly young Turkish people, who attended the march, what came across was a new sense of hope that accompanied the deep sadness and anger felt at the murder of Hrant Dink. By coming together in such great numbers, perhaps this time we had not failed him and proved his trust in the changing society in Turkey true to some extent.
Yet, it was not an easy hope. For Hrant Dink’s Turkish friends, or young Turkish people who have since tried to show their solidarity in various ways from trying to contribute to Agos to showing up at his trials or even by speaking out more, and hence being less complicit, this hope has come with a deep self-reflection and against a background of bleak developments.
Many, including authors, lawyers and similarly visible figures involved in the struggles for a more just Turkey, have spoken out very candidly about their regrets. That they had not attended his trials in greater numbers, that they had let the hassles of everyday life prevent them from showing more clearly that Hrant Dink was not alone. In this sense, perhaps one can see the latest apology initiative, for the insensitivity to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe of 1915, as connected to a deep process of reflection on the part of those who were already speaking out.
On the other hand, the equalization of Hrant Dink with Turkey’s conscience has to a certain extent prevented another very important conversation from happening. A conversation that would focus on how this was not always an easy relationship. As an Armenian citizen of Turkey, a journalist, coming out of a leftist political tradition, an advocate and a self-proclaimed ordinary man, he was always more than one identity at a time. His “excesses” in that sense produced tensions, the discussions of which have been very revealing about the political culture and societal sectors in Turkey. The identity borders of the Turkish left and how it has dealt with non-class based issues is one quick example that comes to mind. This is a conversation that needs to be disentangled from the persona of Hrant Dink and pursued in very honest ways.
Let me now turn to the bleakness. The trial of those held suspect for his murder has proved a very frustrating quest for justice. At some of its worst moments, it has revealed the confidence on the part of not only the murderer but also the accomplices, that they can get away with it. And the justice system has not done much to change that perception. The court has repeatedly refused to investigate connections with other trials, which would point to the organizational structure behind the murder, showing once again that even when all the extrajudiciality and illegality comes out in the open, there is still no guarantee of justice. One can of course find other examples of this very pertinent to the Kurdish question such as the attitude toward the Åžemdinli bookstore bombing, ending in the expulsion from legal practice of the prosecutor who pointed at interesting links higher up.
Another daunting issue is the article 301 on denigrating Turkishness. Despite all the pressure on the government to remove it, the revision made to the law falls far short of the expectations of the civil society in Turkey and needless to say the EU. The 301 is much deeper than what can simply be described as a fascist law. The arbitrariness of its implementation, which goes far beyond the text of the law itself, was manifested when Hrant Dink was charged with the crime despite expert reports to the contrary. On October 11, 2007, Arat Dink, Hrant Dink’s son was tried under the same article and found guilty of insulting Turkishness for republishing his father’s words in Agos, which were and since have been republished in almost all mainstream media with no such repercussions.
Its openness to the interpretation and legal entrepreneurship has given way to self-censorship on the part of authors, editors and publishing houses as the responsibility falls on a wide array of actors. As a quick parenthesis, the unpredictable breadth of its application runs so deep that when I shared the news of my participation in this event with people who are involved in human rights work in Turkey, more than one has raised the question of whether any difficulties might arise from it.
The broader political climate has witnessed a constant back and forth between the same bleakness and hopeful developments. On the one hand, we have seen the emergence of a more statist AK Party that has taken an increasingly reluctant stance on the Kurdish issue on multiple occasions but that also undertook the establishment of TV ÅžeÅŸ, a public channel which will broadcast in Kurdish. Similarly, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip ErdoÄŸan, has publicly chastised the apology initiative whereas the President, Abdullah GÃ¼l traveled to Armenia to attend the football game played between the national teams of Armenia and Turkey. A ground for further hope lies in the pursuit of the Ergenekon trial. This is a truly historical and novel trial, commonly seen as the first instance of Turkey confronting what is alternately called the “deep state,” “state within the state,” or the “counter guerrilla.” The pursuit of the trial which began in July 2007 with a raid in Istanbul and the discovery of an arms depot has expended to reveal intricate connections between retired and active army officials, and civilians, with a strong suspicion about the existence of elaborate plans to create chaos, render the current government inept and steer the country in a different direction. Many have raised suspicions about the organization’s connection to Hrant Dink’s murder. The trial has been pursued despite multiple covert and overt attempts to stall the process.
Yet, at times the bleakness becomes overpowering and the near impossibility of separating the last two years of Turkey’s history from a much longer history of violations and injustices, makes the question of what we have accomplished since Hrant Dink’s death or whether there are any grounds for being hopeful a difficult one to answer. Add to this the hardness of anniversaries â€“ how they remind us of both how much and how little has happened and underscore the importance of who is being commemorated very sharply.
In the days leading up to this conference, I felt at a similar juncture of hope and bleakness that I became aware of at the day of the funeral. I have observed the civil society in Turkey for the last two years, was involved in it as a young Turkish person, alongside others, who have attended the march, organized around Agos as contributors and translators, attended the trials to show that this pursuit of justice will not be a silent or an unrecognized one. All this gives me hope. The conscience of the Turkish society has opened up in ways that make it more difficult to make the likes of the Åžemdinli bombing forgotten. Through the cracks in the official ideology, all the stories that have been kept under it become visible and audible to a much wider sector of the society now ready to hear and see them.
But is this hope enough? Is it communicable or translatable in the face of such sadness? My wish is that we can feel and promote the hope alongside the pain of the bleakness and sadness, that we can see the difference between the state in Turkey and its society wherein further grounds for hope do, in fact, reside. As I have tried to express, this is not a easy hope, but it is the hope that we all need.
“Turkey respect your Minorities”
Sabri Atman of Seyfo Centre
Ladies and gentleman
The developments in Turkey over the last three decades have been of both hopelessness and joy. Whereas at one point over 100,000 Assyrians lived in the region, now there are only a few thousand. The gap between the Turkish Government and the Assyrians living overseas widened during the 1980s and 1990s. The Assyrians were trapped in the middle of a civil war and suffered as a result of the atrocities.
Exiled Assyrians have visited and are visiting their ancestral villages in large groups and considerable investment lies ahead if the development can be sustained.
In addition, Assyrian representatives both within and outside the country have initiated negotiations with different parts of the Turkish government. There has also been contact with prominent people in Turkey itself. Villages are slowly being rebuilt. Plans for resettlement are being considered among the first generation of exile Assyrians in Europe.
Turkey, the EU and the Assyrians
Despite the positive development of recent years there is still a considerable amount of work to be done before Turkey can become a full member of the European Union. Among others is the lack of a proper judicial system and areas of concern in the democratic process have been brought up. Paramilitary groups in southeast Turkey continue to make life difficult for the inhabitants of the countryside. Disputes regarding land ownership and other disputes keep reminding us that the indigenous Assyrians are detached from the majority due to their different religion, culture and language. The Assyrians aspire to take part and contribute to the transformation process in which Turkey is involved. We believe in a different Turkey. A Turkey with Democracy and mutual understanding is possible with the support of groups in Europe and specifically the support from various EU institutions. The following questions have to be solved before the process can move forward.
1. Turkish Democracy
Turkish democracy has the potential to take great steps forward. What is characteristic of the Assyrians is the fact that they are not a minority that entered this region sometime in history. The Assyrian people have been living in these parts of Southern Turkey for thousands of years and they must be perceived as indigenous extension of the Mesopotamian civilization. A democratic state must follow international conventions and as such Turkey must recognize the Assyrians as indigenous people and ratify the UN Convention on indigenous people. This will guarantee the survival of the Assyrian cultural, social and political rights in the country, particular at a time when the numbers of Assyrians are falling dramatically.
2. The Fundamental Question
The Turkish government in the early 1900s ratified the so called Lausanne Treaty in which national minorities were defined and their rights agreed upon. The Assyrians were excluded from that treaty, a fact that has brought serious political and cultural difficulties for our people. The Lausanne treaty is of great importance, there must be a prerequisite, that the Assyrians be recognized in this document before proceeding to the adoption of the Copenhagen criteria.
Much of the 20th century history of the Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks, and Yezidis in Turkey has been of a great tragedy. It is normal for a democratic state to make up for its past mistakes by taking steps towards a new era. None of the current inhabitants of Turkey should feel guilt for the genocide of 1915 against the Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks and Yezidis. Such an initiative would speed up the work of reconciliation.
Recently, a group of 200 Turkish intellectuals launched an Internet campaign to apologize for Ottoman war crimes committed at the hand of Turks against Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks during World War I. The language used does not refer to the term genocide, as favored by the victims, though it is certainly helping to erode the biggest taboo in Turkey, as the campaign initiator Baskin Oran puts it. The language speaks of “the great catastrophe” but Assyrians as victims â€“ over 500,000 were killed in the genocide — are not mentioned. Meanwhile at least 25,000 Turks have signed the petition, prompting calls of treason by Turkish nationalists and media. The Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Erdogan himself has called the petition a “mistake”.
Mr. Ahmet TÃ¼rk DTP Chairman, continued his statements at the Assyrian association in Midyat with the following remarks: “We are ready to apologize for wrong doing. This is not to reduce the importance of the events. The events should be not brought up to the agenda by a simple apology. We are the people of this region and soil. Our struggle is aimed to allow people to live in brotherhood.”
Closing his remarks, Mr. TÃ¼rk said: “We, as Kurds, have our stake in the killing of this (cultural) richness. Today, when we see Armenian and Assyrian brothers, and look at them, we feel shame.”
Mr. TÃ¼rk’s apology is definitely welcomed as a gesture of friendship by Assyrians. In fact, it is not the first time that a Kurdish leader has apologized for Kurdish crimes committed against Assyrians during World War I. Putting Mr. Ahmet TÃ¼rk’s statement in context of the Apology Campaign of by Turkish intellectuals, it is a courageous step by a party leader of the Turkish parliament.
4. Turks, Kurds Continue Attempts to Confiscate Assyrian Monastery’s Land
Kurdish leaders from the villages of Yayvantepe, Eglence and Candarli, in cooperation with influential members of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), are continuing their so-called “lawful means” campaign to confiscate the land of the Assyrian monastery of St. Gabriel, founded in 397 A.D. During the Ottoman Empire the monastery received the status of a Foundation for the Syrian Orthodox Church and is still legally regarded as such. Over the last three decades it has developed into a major religious and community center that attracts tens of thousands visitors from Turkey and abroad. The entire region has benefited from this development, though for some fanatic Kurdish village heads, it seems to be a problem.
As their initial efforts did not materialize and court hearings and trials have been postponed, the Kurdish leaders of the villages increased pressure by harassing the monastery with more false accusations:
* The monastery has been established illegally while a wall has been built around it
* The Church is doing missionary work among the youth
* The teaching in the monastery violates Turkish laws
* National Unity is destroyed
* The church is a historic museum and should not be misused for praying
* The monastery does not pay taxes
Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) living in Europe and elsewhere along with their Church organizations are closing ranks and are showing strong solidarity with St. Gabriel, while initiating appeals to EU institutions and European Churches for help and support.
A joint press release issued by the Assyrian Democratic Organization, Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Alliance and Syrian Orthodox Church of GÃ¶teborg, on November 26, stated “the head of the village Yayvantepe threatened to burn the monastery and raze it to the ground in front of the military personnel and the state prosecutor,” with impunity. St. Gabriel monastery is regarded as the oldest religious center of the community for centuries; a threat to the monastery endangers the very existence of the remaining Christian minority.
In Germany, the highest Council of the Catholic bishops as well as the head of the Evangelical Churches promised support for the case as reaction to various appeals including from the Syrian Orthodox Church representatives. In reply to various requests by concerned Assyrians, the German Foreign Ministry replied on November 28 that, “The German Embassy in Ankara like other European Union (EU) member states as well as the EU Commission Representative in Ankara are closely observing the development concerning St. Gabriel and are in regular contacts with Turkish Government offices as well as with lawyers of the monastery”. The German Foreign Ministry assures that they will follow the issues regarding St. Gabriel closely.
Assyrians over the world are following the case with fierce attention and hope that the Turkish judiciary system, after its apparent adaptation to EU norms, will speak justice and the Turkish authorities will stop the village heads, from bringing offensive allegations against such an ancient center of Christianity in Turkey.
Churches, monasteries and villages have been destroyed. These need to be restored. The village of Hassana, for example was evacuated and destroyed completely as a result of the war. This village and others need to be restored. Families that are from these villages and who wish to return should be assisted to do so.
Over the past few years the numbers of Assyrians visiting their home districts has increased dramatically. The driving force behind these has been the expectation to revive their childhood areas. As families come back, the lack of security is the main obstacle to long term development. The Turkish Government must provide security for those returning Assyrians and newly populated villages. Properties that have been taken illegally must be returned to their legal owners.
Villages rebuilt by Assyrians must be given protection. Adjustment in laws and legal assistance in preparing documentation must be provided. Further, the names of all Assyrian villages which were changed to Turkish names must be restored. This will have a great symbolic meaning for the remaining Assyrians and those from abroad.
The Turkish Government should aim through its Embassies and other institutions to encourage those Assyrians living overseas to return home. This can be accomplished by informing them of the current conditions and the advancements made in protecting their rights.
The slogan â€œTurkey is for the Turksâ€ should be changed immediately. It should be replaced by one that says that Turkey is for all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.
Indoctrination of Pan Turkism and Pan Islamism should stop in the schools. Textbooks that contain racially incitements and misleading information about the nationâ€™s minorities must be changed. Alternative textbooks should inform the Turkish people about the history of their minorities and their role in history objectively
Thank you for your attention!
Abdulmesih BarAbrahem (Assyrian Democratic Organization)
According to the Lausanne Treaty from 1923 the non-Turkish Christian minorities such as Greeks, Armenians and Jews in Turkey received at least a legally defined status concerning their own mother language and rights maintaining own schools. Nevertheless, and as many human rights reports proved, Turkey practically did everything to undermine this right by numerous state and local regulations in the past; hence, the minorities hope that in context of the European Union negotiations, their rights are defined in a way, that Turkey cannot so easily revoke them.
The Assyrian as indigenous Christian and multi-denominational (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Church of the East) ethnic minority, with historical settlement areas in the southeast Turkey, was never recognized as minority in the sense of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 that till todayâ€™s forms the legal framework of the Christian citizens. While still in the 1960s, about 130000 Assyrians lived in Turkey, only about 15000 are remained today; belonging to various denominations, Assyrians live today in Tur Abdin and in Istanbul. Since Assyrians are not recognized as minority in the sense of the Lausanne Treaty, they were not allowed to open and maintain own schools, also they were not allowed to publish books and magazines in their own Syriac language, which is a modern dialect of Aramaic, spoken by Jesus Christ.
Lacking a legally defined status, Assyrians live basically in a juridical insecure â€œspaceâ€. The remaining monasteries again and again received official prohibitions for the teaching of the Syriac language, which is used until today as the language during the Liturgy. De-facto, the prohibition which was issued on October 6, 1997 by the responsible province governor, Fikret GÃ¼ven from Mardin, is in place until today. In its function as responsible for the security authority he justified back in time the prohibition with the â€œfactâ€, that teaching in the Syriac language in the monasteries of the Tur Abdin, Deirulzafaran and Mar Gabriel, violates TÃ¼rkish legal regulations.
For some years teaching of Syriac in the monasteries is at least tolerated, but a legally binding security does not exist still. Currently, approximately 80 pupils in the important monasteries and bishop seats such as Mar Gabriel (Midyat) and Dayrulzafaran (Mardin) are able to learn the Syriac language; but the situation pushes the pupils and the monastery schools into a dangerous â€œunlawful statusâ€. In fact, only some months ago, in the autumn of 2008, neighbouring village chiefs and close to the ruling AKP Party, have submitted a lawsuit based on fabricated accusations against the 1600 years old monastery Mar Gabriel, one of them being the â€œillegal teachingâ€ of the language of Jesus Christ!
The prohibition of the Syriac language violates the freedom of religion. As the Republic of Turkey is a secular state, whose equal citizens enjoy freedom of religion according to its constitution, it should respect the international treaties it signed regarding religious and cultural freedom. In reality, Turkey today is clearly an Islamic coined/shaped state, which favours and demands above all the Sunni Islam.
Christians in Turkey are relegated to citizen of second-class and exposed to harassment between bureaucratic hurdles and physical threat. A public confession of a Turkish citizen to Christianity still leads to discrimination and persecution; and various missionary cases shown, Christians can be killed, if they freely express their believes. As for the Christian Assyrians, this leads to an additional problem area: Assyrian children and pupils in the Turkish schools are often forced to participate in Islamic lessons. Teachers make their advancement dependent of their participation in Islamic classes. Also Christian girls in the South-East region of Turkey are pressured to wear headscarves; their schoolmates mob them and insult them as â€žChristian pigs â€œ, while Turkish teachers do not intervene.
To look further, Assyrians demand also that Turkey opens them similar possibilities similar to the recently introduced TV-transmissions in Kurdish language, which started beginning of this year.
While concluding, we would like to remind about the resolution of the European Parliament, which demands from Turkey the recognition of 1915 Genocide against the Armenians and Assyrians; this should be a precondition for Turkeyâ€™s entry into the European Union.
19th January 2009
Assyrian Democratic Organisation in Europe (ADO)
Speech By John Pontifex â€“ Aid to the Church in Need (UK), www.acnuk.org
â€œThere is very little left of the Church here in Turkey â€“ just relics and seeds.â€
Such were the remarks of a certain ANGELO RONCALLI. He was writing in 1939 as apostolic delegate in Istanbul barely two decades before being named Pope John XXIII.
Statistics alone bear out Cardinal Roncalliâ€™s comment. A century ago, Turkey had the most numerous Christian community in the Middle East. Today it is the smallest. There were about two million Christians in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century â€“ barely a quarter of that number remain.
Almost all of them are concentrated in the large cities of Istanbul, SMERNA (Smyrna) and MERSIN and the rest are in small communities scattered across the country. To continue with a brief overview of the Church in Turkey, about half the Christians in the region belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Next come the Catholic communities â€“ about 30,000 in all â€“ mainly Latin, but also Armenian, Syrian and Chaldean. It is understood that there are about 20,000 Protestants in total. The Greek Orthodox, led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I are now no more than about 5,000. In total, Christians represent less than half a percent in a population of 75 million, the vast, vast majority of whom are Muslim.
So how can it be that such a large Christian community has dwindled so drastically? The question is all the more relevant given the protection given to Christians in the Turkish Constitution. The Treaty of Lausanne, 24th July 1923 â€“ widely considered to be modern Turkeyâ€™s official birth certificate â€“ not only affirms the equality of Christians with the other â€˜inhabitants of Turkeyâ€™ but guarantees them their civil, political and cultural rights. It gives so-called â€˜protectedâ€™ status to churches including the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Jewish community. Article 40 states: â€œTurkish nationals, belonging to non-Muslim minorities shall enjoy the same treatment and security in law and in fact as other Turkish nationals. In particular, they shall have an equal right to establish, manage and control at their own expense, any charitable, religious and social institutions, any schools or other establishments for instruction and education, with the right to use their own language and to exercise their own religion freely.â€
Words, as we all know, are fine things, but reality can be quite different. As an international Catholic organisation, Aid to the Church in Need is a charity which supports persecuted and other suffering Christians, carrying out more than 5,000 projects every year in a total of at least 130 countries. The charity, which has offices in 17 countries plus a project headquarters, is in contact with bishops and other leading clergy in countries and regions of most concern, which include Turkey. From the contacts the charity has forged as well as project and fact-finding visits carried out by project staff, ACN has become increasingly worried about the future of Christianity in the country. In ACNâ€™s Religious Freedom in the World report, released late last year, it concludes that even Churches recognised by the Treaty of Lausanne are under threat. It states: â€œThe Christians who fall within the scope of the Treaty of Lausanne suffer serious discriminationâ€¦ to the extent that today the Church communityâ€™s future is seriously compromised.â€
And on this day when we remember HRANT DINK, the Turkish editor, columnist and journalist, who gave so much to promote the rights of minority groups in Turkey, it is important to underline that there remains an institutionalised discrimination against non-Muslims and especially Christians. The DYANET, which manages religious affairs, is far from impartial in its adjudication of matters for example approval of clergy appointments, training, salaries and teachers. The result is the decline of the Church.
For Christian groups who are so-called â€˜forgottenâ€™ by the Treaty of Lausanne, the situation is far worse. The Churches affected by this include members of the Oriental Churches (Assyrian-Chaldean, Syriac and Maronite) which is ironic given that they are the most ancient religions which exist in the country. Since they are not recognised, they do not have any legal status or any right which places them in an even more precarious position. These churches are deprived of the right to own and manage their own schools, social centres, seminaries or religious formation centres or to build churches.
So far as Western Christian denominations are concerned (Latin-rite Catholics and Protestants), they can only legitimate their presence thanks to letters sent by the Turkish authorities to the French, Italian and British authorities with the objective of guaranteeing the continuation of their work in the educational and health sectors- established centuries earlier by European missionaries. But their status is no more than that of managers of these charities. Catholics and Protestants do not enjoy any juridical status, they cannot own property, whether bought or inherited, nor can they construct new buildings, replace personnel or take someone to court.
This explains the problems last year when Cardinal Joaquin Meisner of Cologne submitted an application to enable a former church in Tarsus and now a museum to be turned back into a place of worship. The cardinal developed the plans to mark the Year of St Paul, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI, commemorating Tarsus as Paulâ€™s birthplace. Whilst the Cardinal was able to hold a service in the former church, those taking part had to ensure all vestiges of Christianity (Cross, candles, vestments etc) were taken away immediately. No breakthrough has yet taken place concerning the application to return the building to its former liturgical function.
But buildings are only the tip of the iceberg. Christians are excluded from professions, including the police, the army and higher administration. In the name of secularism, religious minorities cannot be represented in parliament which means they cannot defend their interests.
The lack of meaningful protection in law and government would explain why a build-up of anti-Christian sentiment has gone on unchecked. The last few years has seen an upsurge in physical and verbal attacks against Christians in Turkey.
Among the most notable of recent times took place in April 2007 when five young Muslims entered a Christian publishing house in MALATAYA (south-east Turkey) and slit the throats of three Protestants. Two of the victims were Christian converts and the other was a German. The publishing house distributed Bibles and other Christian literature. Fortunately, the accused were caught on the scene of the crime with butchersâ€™ knives in their hands and the blood on their clothes.
Attacks against clergy have been numerous.
â€¢ On 6th February 2006 Father ANDREA SANTRO, from Italy, was murdered while praying in the church of St Mary in TREBIZOND, on the shores of the Black Sea, in northern Turkey.
â€¢ On 9th February 2006 Father Martin Kmetec, from Slovenia, was attacked by a group of young Muslims in the church of St Elena in SMYRNA. The list goes on.
But one of the most recent attacks is more revealing in terms of the motives of the aggressor.
â€¢ In December 2007, Italian Capuchin Father Adriano Francini, 65, was hospitalised after he was stabbed outside the Church of St Anthony in Smyrna. His attacker, a 19-year-old man, justified his crime saying that the priest had refused to baptise him. Almost certainly, the man was pretending to seek baptism. Later, the young man told police that he had been influenced by a TV series in Turkey depicting Christian missionaries as political â€˜infiltrators who pay poor families to convert to Christianity.
During interviews with Aid to the Church in Need, done both face-to-face and over the telephone, Bishop LUIGI PADOVESE of ANATOLIA has stressed again and again that there is a growing culture of anti-Christian sentiment, promoted primarily through the media. In July 2006, I interviewed Bishop Padovese after a man knifed the elderly FATHER PIERRE BRUNISSEN in the northerly city port of SAMSUN. Commenting on the attack, Bishop Padovese said: â€œThe newspapers are trying to aggravate â€“ to show the Christians as enemies of the people.â€ The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey in November/December 2006 revealed the extent of anti-Christian feeling. Beforehand, Bishop Padovese had said: â€œMany, many people think itâ€™s not acceptable for the Pope to visit the Patriarch. They have a very negative attitude.â€
Pope Benedict himself is well aware of the problems â€“ the underlying threats to priestsâ€™ safety, the barring of Christians from senior jobs, the ban on church building and repairs, the surveillance of all church activity. He knows, as was reported in 2007 by Archbishop FRANCESCHINI of SMYRNA, that in this secular country the Koran is obligatory, that religious education teachers are negatively biased in their treatment of the Gospels and the Church and that the military triumph of Islamic powers through history are gloried. In short, he is aware of the Islamisation of Turkish society, symbolised by the increase in women wearing the veil and the triumph in the polls of the Islamic party in July 2007.
Only through an end to intolerance will it be possible for the few seeds of Christian heritage that Angelo Roncalli John XXIII found in 1939 to germinate and flower anew in a new climate of inter-faith harmony. If Turkey wants to prove itself for entry into the European Union, it can start by cleaning up its act with regards to minority groups. It can ensure that those responsible for crimes against minorities or the promotion of religious hatred are stopped in their tracks. As Pope Benedict XVI only 10 days ago in his speech to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps: â€œChristianity is a religion of freedom and peace, and it stands at the service of the true good of humanity.â€ He went on to call on authorities to put a stop to â€œintolerance and acts of harassment directed against Christians. They should repair the damage which has been done, particularly to the places of worship and properties; and encourage by every means possible due respect for all religions, outlawing all forms of hatred and contempt.â€
John Pontifex is Head of Press and Information, Aid to the Church in Need UK