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Martyrs, Desecrating Churches, Jailed for Tweeting: Religious Persecution in Turkey

Posted on | June 21, 2012 | No Comments

Is Atatürk’s dream of a secular Turkey lost?

ICC Note:

If you want a cliff notes of the problems Turkey has faced and will face regarding restrictions on religious freedom, this is a good article to read. It gives points of history as well as recent examples of persecution and bias towards Islam.

06/2012 Turkey (beliefnet)- Turkey – for almost a century the most secular and moderate nation in the Muslim world – seems to be flirting with its Islamic caliphate roots, dreaming of the Ottoman Empire’s glory days, jihad, conquest and superiority over the “infidel” West. Turks are being prosecuted for publishing “tweets” on Twitter that are “insulting to Islam,” despite the TurkishMustafa Kamal Atatürk, father of modern Turkey

Turks are being prosecuted for publishing “tweets” on Twitter that are “insulting to Islam,” despite the Turkish constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom. Christians are increasingly marginalized. Bureaucrats routinely block the building of churches.

Historically, Turkey played a significant role in early Christianity. It was the focus of much of the Apostle Paul’s missionary work. His Epistle to the Ephesians was written to Turks. However in 1299, the country was conquered by Islamic armies and its population converted to Islam. Constantinople, the center of the Eastern Orthodox church was renamed Istanbul and became the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites for almost a milennium. Today, approximately 96.6 percent of Turkey’s population is Muslim.

Following Atatürk’s dream, Turkey spent the last century officially secular – the only Middle Eastern state granted membership in NATO or allowed to apply to join the European Union.

But, Islam predominates. Laws are blatantly biased against Muslims. For example, the few church buildings that exist are not allowed to exceed certain heights – in stark contrast to the massive hilltop mosques that dominate the Istanbul skyline. The Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of religion, however Christian worship services are only permitted in “buildings created for this purpose,” and no new church buildings have been allowed in decades. The few Turks who dare to openly profess Christ face harassment, threats and imprisonment. Most churches are surrounded by high walls and protected by 24-hour guards.

Semir Serkek, a 58-year-old pastor in the Turkish capital, tells how he has experienced hostility from Muslims nearly all his life. However, an attack over the 2012 Easter weekend was the first time he had been physically assaulted.

He was alone at Istanbul’s Grace Church preparing for the next day’s Resurrection Sunday celebrations when he heard frantic pounding at the door. Four young men in their late teens claimed they had questions and demanded to enter. They then threatened to kill him if he didn’t convert to Islam right there by reciting the Islamic confession of faith, the Kelime-i-sehadet.

“I received a severe blow to my chest,” Serkek told Istanbul’s Hürriyet Daily News. After verbally harassing the pastor, one of the men knocked him down a set of stairs. The men then ran away laughing.

However, the attack did not deter Semir from attending a memorial service for Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske. Serkek had also served as a mentor to the three young Christian men who were gunned down for printing Christian literature at Turkey’s small Malatya Zirve Publishing House. Extremists bragged in the media of the killings.

The United States Commission on International and Religious Freedom has recommended that Turkey be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern.” In particular, the commission cited Turkey’s long-term and systematic limitations on non-Muslims – disturbingly similar to Pakistan and Iran.

In 2006, two Christian men were charged with “insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.” Their offense? They were preaching Christianity. Four years later, a Turkish court finally acquitted them but fined them $3,200 each anyway.

In April 2007, three members of the Malayta Kurtulus Church were tortured and killed by a group of five Muslims. The trial of their five alleged murderers continues.

“Christian clerics are alarmed at growing threats, persecution in Turkey,” reports Istanbul’s Hürriyet Daily News: “Christian clerics in Turkey have expressed their anxiety regarding the growing threats they face” in the wake of the Easter attack on Serkek.

“Attacks against Christian clerics drop off for a while, then they begin to re-energize. Such attacks have begun to accelerate again in recent days. We hesitate when opening our doors and welcoming the faithful inside,” said Pastor Krikor Aðabaloðlu of the Gedikpaþa Armenian Protestant Church.

Pastor Orhan Picaklar of the Agape Protestant Church in the Black Sea province of Samsun also said he has been living with a personal escort 24 hours a day for the past four years, since a plot to assassinate him first came to light. “Police officers keep watch at the door during services. Worshipers are afraid to enter the church due to the threat to their lives,” he said.

Aðabaloðlu said Turkish officials hve refused to grant permission for the construction of a church building. “They are trying to stymie the spread of Christianity in this way,” he said.

“Hardly surprising, deeply upsetting, and geostrategically catastrophic, it’s official,” he reports. “Turkey has now passed over towards being an Islamist state. That turning point is marked by a tiny event of gigantic importance.

“Fazil Say is an internationally acclaimed Turkish classical pianist. He has performed with prestigious symphony orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Berlin, Israel Philharmonic, France, and Tokyo, and is a European Union cultural ambassador. The Turkish state is now going to put him on trial, as an Istanbul court has accepted the prosecutor’s charge, which amounts to heresy. Specifically: he is accused of insulting Islam because of ‘tweets’ he sent” on the Internet social network Twitter.

In one such message or “tweet,” Say suggested that “since the Koran says there are rivers of drinks in heaven, that makes it sound like a pub.”

In another, he jested that the beautiful women available there make it sound like a brothel. “

That’s his crime – writing a couple of sentences to describe his irreverent musings, meant to be humorous.

“We are not talking of someone criticizing Say or disagreeing with him,” writes Rubin. “We are talking about the power of the Turkish state being used to charge a man with a crime and to send him to prison for exercising free speech. True, they are only asking for a sentence of eighteen months in prison, but once the precedent is set, their ambitions will expand.

“There are already hundreds of political prisoners in Turkey today who have been in prison for over three years without any trial. Now, if criticizing Islam in Turkey is a crime, Turkey is not a secular state.

[Full Story]

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