Date: Wednesday 5 December 2007
Subj: Turkish nationalism threatens Christians.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
This posting aims to give some degree of understanding the phenomenon of Turkish nationalism, its relationship to the persecution of Christians and the immense difficulties facing those hoping to secure justice and security for Christians through the Malatya murder trial. Turkey has only around 100,000 Christians left, making up less than one percent of the population.
HISTORY: TURKEY IS BORN
After World War One, all the Turks retained of the once expansive Ottoman Empire was Anatolia and Istanbul (Constantinople). Through the Treaty of Sevres (1920) the Allies sought to protect Christian minorities by placing most of Anatolia under Christian control: the Greeks occupied the west and the Allies (British, French and Italian) occupied the south, while the Armenian remnant declared an independent republic in the east. Moreover, the Turks were also supposed to grant autonomy to Kurdistan.
Under the leadership of military commander Kemal Mustapha Ataturk, Turkish nationalist forces in Anatolia, rejecting the conditions of the Treaty of Sevres, mounted a War of Independence. They fought and defeated the Greeks in the west and drove the Allied forces out of the south. They also drove the Armenian remnant out of their Armenian Republic in the east. Ataturk thus forced the Allies to return to the negotiating table. With the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the modern state of Turkey was founded to be the successor state to the Ottoman Empire. The borders were set and the security of remnant minorities was to be guaranteed. Ataturk became Turkey's first president.
Thus Turkish nationalism rose from the ashes of the decimated Ottoman Empire and became established through the subsequent War of Independence. Turkish nationalism was born through Turkish struggles against Christian nations, both indigenous minorities and great foreign powers.
After becoming president, Aaturk committed himself to reforming, secularising and modernising Turkey. He imposed a program of secularisation that repressed Islam by force, liberating and enlightening multitudes (especially women and intellectuals) but confounding others, in particular observant Muslims. But whilst Ataturk felled the tree of Islam, cutting off its expression, he did not deal with the life-force within its roots, something he could have done had he facilitated an open and honest examination of Ottoman history and the Islamic ideology that drove it. Islamic expression was repressed, but Islamic ideology was spared. Consequently, as repression gradually lessened from the 1950s onwards, Islam slowly grew again, increasing in strength through subsequent generations.
HISTORY: THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE
People interpret history differently. The abusive master and the downtrodden slave view life on the plantation from quite different perspectives, just as high caste Brahmins and "untouchable" Dalits have conflicting views of life in Hindu India. In each case, the former boasts from their elevated position of a wonderful existence with prosperity and opportunity. The latter, at whose expense this prosperity and elevation was gained, has a rather different view. Furthermore, the former may expect the latter to appreciate the way they have been tolerated or let live, while the latter simply longs for liberty and equality. It is the same with Muslims and dhimmis, that is Jews and Christians subjugated under Islamic domination and rule.
Just because people see history differently does not mean that objective truth does not exist -- it does. Wilberforce revealed the shameful truth of slavery to the consciences of the British and the truth set multitudes free.
Muslims tend to interpret history though the prism of their Islamic ideology of Muslim superiority and the perfection of Sharia (Allah's perfect law). According to Islam, jihad for the advance of Islam and the implementation of Sharia results in perfect peace, harmony and security. Muslims therefore speak of Islamic Empire as something glorious and benevolent, while they either repress or do not see that the defeated, subjugated peoples had a rather different view. These peoples' lands had been invaded, conquered, occupied and colonised. The conquered peoples were stripped of their rights, disarmed, subjugated, exploited, heavily taxed of money and sons, persecuted and repressed. These were Christian peoples -- Greeks, Serbs, Armenians, Bulgarians, to name a few -- proud, ancient Christian cultures and nations that centuries of Islamic domination reduced to traumatised serfs or slaves.
As post-Reformation Europe rose through liberty and industry, the Ottoman Empire declined through endemic corruption and poor governance. As the Empire weakened, the long-subjugated Christian nations rose up, fought and liberated their people, lands and culture from the Ottoman Muslim yoke.
However, when Turkish Muslims look at the same events they conclude that all history proves is that acquiescing to Western demands is fatal and that Christians are an existential threat to the security and territorial integrity of the Turkish nation.
Salim Cohce is a professor of history and sociology at the state-run Inonu University in Malatya. He believes that missionaries working in Turkey are focusing on "destabilisation, manipulation and propaganda" and concludes, "If they are not controlled, this can be dangerous for Turkey." (Link 1)
As long as the truth of history is subservient to myth and "insulting Turkishness" remains a crime, then Turkey's Christians will have trouble as they will have to continue to bear the burden of Islamised history. Peace and reconciliation are the end products of a process that commences with truth and progresses through confession, repentance and forgiveness. There can be no peace and reconciliation without truth.
TURKISH NATIONALISM SOARS
The US-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam's regime put Iraq "in play", not only for pan-Islamists and Shi'ites, but also for pan-Turkists who would like to see an autonomous Turkman entity in Northern Iraq. At least 2.5 million ethnic Turkmen live in Iraq in a corridor that runs from the Turkish border south through Mosul and Kirkuk. It is a strip of land that also includes the bulk of Iraq's northern oilfields and the country's main oil pipelines. Consequentially, pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism have escalated dramatically since the drums of war started beating in mid-2002.
Pan-Turkist aspirations for northern Iraq have more to do with Turkish nationalism than irredentism or imperialism. When the Ottoman Turks and the British signed an armistice on 31 October 1918, the Ottoman Turks still occupied the vilayet (province) of Mosul. At the time, Mesopotamia (Iraq) was part of the Ottoman Empire and was divided into three vilayets: Basra (Arab Shi'ite), Baghdad (Arab Sunni) and Mosul (ethnically and religiously mixed). The British had captured Basra and Baghdad, but they had their sights sets on oil-rich Kirkuk. Within 48 hours of the armistice, Mesopotamian commander in chief William Marshall gave the order to take Mosul, and so the British forces pushed on and drove the Ottoman forces out of Mosul in violation of the ceasefire. Days later the war ended and in the words of Edwin Black, "The shooting stopped. The shouting would now begin." (Link 2)
Turkish nationalism is further provoked by the aspirations of US-backed Iraqi Kurds. For one thing, the territorial claims of Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Turkmen overlap, most notably their common claim to oil-rich Kirkuk. Further to that, the prospect of autonomy for Iraqi Kurds is motivating Turkey's Kurds to step up their fight for autonomy or an independent Kurdistan, both of which would involve the partition of Turkey. Kurds, who make up more than 20 percent of the population of Turkey, are concentrated in south-east Anatolia. Terrorism from the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK: a Kurdish separatist terror group) has dramatically escalated recently causing Turkish nationalism to soar. It adds to Turkish angst that the PKK are proving to be "better capable of defence than hitherto believed". (Gregory Copley, International Strategic Studies Association, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy 10, 2007)
The problem being, that one integral element of Turkish nationalism is a deep suspicion and fear of Christians and ethnic minorities that borders on paranoia. Turkish nationalism deems Christians to be an existential threat. As Turkish nationalism rises, so too does persecution of Christians.
MALATYA MURDER TRIAL
This environment of escalating Turkish nationalist and Islamic zeal is not the ideal environment for a trial that is supposed to deliver justice for three martyred Christians -- Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske -- who were tortured and murdered by Muslim Turkish nationalists in Zirve Publishing House in Malatya, Southern Turkey on 18 April 2007.
Compass Direct reports that after six months of investigations, criminal prosecutors charged Emre Gunaydin, Abuzer Yildirim, Hamit Ceker, Cuma Ozdemir and Salih Guler of founding an armed group and murdering Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske in a deliberate and organised manner. (Link 3)
According to Compass Direct, when the Turkish press reported the 23 November trial date, they did so in articles that sensationalised some of the scandalous allegations that the professed killers made during their interrogations, include that the Christians were linked with the PKK and were forcing local girls into prostitution. Compass reports: "Sabah newspaper's headline quoted Emre Gunaydin, the alleged ringleader of the five killers, as saying, 'We committed murder out of fear they would harm our families.'" (Link 3)
Isa Karatas, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey told Compass, "These people want to portray Turkey's Protestants as enemies of the nation. [And] because honour is such an important concept in our culture, they are trying to accuse us of having weak morals, so that they can find a justification for their murders." (Link 3)
The trial commenced on 23 November, but as Compass Direct reports: "At the request of the murderers' defence team of lawyers, who declared they had not had sufficient time to examine the prosecution files and prepare the accused suspects to testify, the court adjourned the hearing until 14 January 2008." (Link 4)
Lawyers working on behalf of the victim's families have expressed outrage at the direction the investigations have taken. Of the 31 files the prosecutors assembled for the case, 15 give only limited information on the five murderers and their crime, while 16 files give detailed information on the three Christian "missionaries" and their "missionary activity".
Compass reports: "According to one lawyer quoted by Milliyet newspaper on November 20, this 'irrelevant' information looked like an indirect effort by the chief prosecutor 'to reduce the charges by making the victims' attempts to spread their religion look like 'provocation'." (Link 4)
Independent Turkish media network Bianet commented on the "biased reporting" noting: "There has been a dangerous shift of focus in news reports on the trial." (Link 5)
Bianet notes that the media, instead of focusing on the horrendous crime of torture and murder, focused on the Christians with the implication that their "missionary activities" provided some justification for their murder. Then, in the days before the trial opened, the media shifted its attention to the plaintiffs' attorneys, alleging that "among the lawyers there are some who have defended militants of the PKK terrorist organisation before".
Bianet reports that the Turkish media has published "the names of all the lawyers joining the hearing, together with the names of those whom they had defended before. There is thus a dangerous shift of focus from the presumed perpetrators of a crime to conspiracy theories linking Christian missionaries and PKK activities."
Orhan Kemal Cengiz, the legal representative of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches, is a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He wrote a powerful column "What is going on in the Malatya massacre case?" which was published in the Turkish Daily News on 22 November. (Link 6)
Cengiz laments the sloppy work of the prosecutors who have focused more on the activities of the victims than of the murderers.
Most seriously, Cengiz complains: "The prosecutor retrieved all documents from the computers of the victims and put them in the case file as 'evidence'. Furthermore, these files, which are public now, may lead to new murders because they include many details on other Protestants who reside in different parts of Turkey. The addresses, emails, telephones of many other Turkish Protestants are in the files, which have already been in the hands of the murderers. The prosecutor failed to make a thorough investigation and he has also put many other lives in danger."
Cengiz also complains that the murderers were not properly investigated. Their membership of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MPH) is noted in the files but not investigated. The confessed murderers gave conflicting testimonies, but these were not challenged or investigated. According to Cengiz, the files lack any details that could implicate others as instigators or motivators of the crime.
Cengiz notes that while the files cast suspicion over the "missionaries", they glorify the murderers by publishing letters they wrote to their families where they explain that they were acting in defence of their homeland.
Cengiz warns: "If state officials keep talking everyday that Turkey is in imminent danger, that there are internal enemies of this country, that missionaries are the agents of foreign states who try to break up Turkey and so on, such horrible crimes are inevitable. If 'internal enemies' such as missionaries are shown on countless Web pages as legitimate targets, and no legal action is taken against this mania, we will continue to see new murders, attacks and slaughters."
1) Murders shine spotlight on evangelical activity in Turkey
By Yigal Schleifer, 25 April 2007
2) Book: Banking on Baghdad
Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict.
By Edwin Black
3) Malatya Murder Trial Set to Open in Turkey
Local press sensationalizes killers' justifications for deaths by torture.
Compass Direct, 5 Nov 2007
4) Lawyers Slam Investigation of Malatya Murders in Turkey
Widows of slain Christians speak out at opening day of trial.
Compass Direct, 27 Nov 2007
5) Malatya Murder Case Postponed
There has been a dangerous shift of focus in news reports on the trial.
By Erol Onderoglu and Nilufer Zengin.
Bıa news centre, 26 Nov 2007
Judiciary under international spotlight in the murder of Christians in Malatya
The New Anatolian / Ankara, 26 November 2007
Turks in Christian murder trial. BBC 23 Nov 2007
Five on trial in Turkey for missionary murders
By Nicholas Birch in Istanbul. 24 Nov 2007
6) What is going on in the Malatya massacre case?
By Orhan Kemal Cengiz, 22 November 2007
Forum 18. TURKEY: What causes intolerance and violence? 29 Nov 2007
By Guzide Ceyhan. http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1053