Turkey: Islamists Attack Churches in Coup Frenzy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s iron-fisted grip has strengthened in the country’s new post-coup reality. The man who is one of the world’s top supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas has now declared a state of emergency in Turkey.

His purges and detention of soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have now reached close to 50,000 in less than one week after the “surprise” coup.

Yet largely unreported in the Western media is the group of Islamists who attacked churches in the Trabzon and Malatya provinces in the frenzy of the coup.

With the coup in progress, mosques all across Turkey last Friday night repeatedly broadcast the adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) and the Islamic knell, rallying people to pour into the streets in support of the government.

Thousands of people heeded the call.

Shouting “Allahu akbar” (Allah is the greatest), a group of Islamists in Malatya stoned a Protestant church, breaking the buildings windows. Another group in Trabzon similarly attacked the Santa Maria church, breaking windows and using hammers to try to break down the door.

Less known is the similar calls by imams in mosques on many other occasions throughout the history of Turkey, which have also led to attacks against non-Muslims — particularly Christians and Alevis.

 

Recent History

On February 5, 2006, Father Andrea Santoro, a 61-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was murdered in the Santa Maria Church in Trabzon. He was shot from behind while kneeling in prayer in the church. Witnesses heard the murderer, age 16, shouting “Allahu Akbar” while killing the priest.

On April 18, 2007, three Christian employees of a publishing house for bibles in Malatya were attacked. After being heavily tortured, their hands and feet were tied and their throats were cut by five Muslim assailants.

Churches and their tiny congregations all across Turkey are continuously exposed to attacks and discrimination including hate crimes, verbal assaults and lack of legal rights to establish places of worship, train religious leaders and share their faith.

 

Christian Extermination and Systematic Discrimination 

The province of Bursa– like other Anatolian areas – is today a Muslim metropolis with very little regard for Christian rights. But a hundred years ago, it had a vibrant Christian community.

Writing in his book “The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History,”[i] the scholar Raymond Kevorkian explains: “The city of Bursa had until 1915 an Armenian population of 11,500 … The city’s Armenians and Greeks represented more than one third of its population, which also included a large number of mucahirs who had recently come from the Balkans.”

During the 1915 genocide, Christians in Bursa were either murdered or deported from the city. (See a map of the Armenian genocide in Northwestern Anatolia here.)

This was followed by the 1923 forcible population exchange treaty between Greece and Turkey in which almost 200,000 Greek Orthodox Christians of Asia Minor were forcibly expelled from Turkey.

Today in Bursa, “The French Church – Cultural House” serves as a clear example of the severe and hostile discrimination to which churches and Christians are exposed all across Turkey.

The day a deal was made with the city to restore the church, Islamists made a threat to bomb the building.

Three deoninations are forced to use the church since it is the only active church building in Bursa. The Catholic community uses the building twice a month for their Sunday services while Orthodox Christians use it once.

Protestants in Bursa had started to meet in “home congregations” in the 1990s. They applied to state institutions in 1994 for a place of worship and worshiped in an apartment until 2004. Today, they hold their services at the church on Sundays while maintaining another apartment for additional services.

As the Protestant community has no legal status in Turkey, it does not even have the full right to establish and maintain places of worship.

In February, Christians were told by the municipality to empty the church. After a campaign was waged against the order on social media, the municipality stepped back, apparently delaying its decision.

To date, the future of the church remains uncertain.

 

Facing Extinction

Anatolia, the former heartland of Christianity with millions of followers, today has a very small, dwindling Christian minority. Many remnant churches are essentially left to decay. Others have been converted to mosques or appropriated for other uses, such as storehouses or stables.

As was the goal, the destruction of Christianity in Anatolia is almost complete.

 

Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist formerly based in Ankara. She is presently in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/uzayb


[i] “The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History”, by Raymond Kévorkian, Publisher: I. B. Tauris, 2011.