Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Brief Guide to Middle Eastern Alliances


By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring

The complex, volatile and exceedingly fragile alliances between the Middle East’s powers and sects are unpacked in detail my book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

What follows below is but a brief (and consequently simplistic) guide to the tangled web that is the Middle East.

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A BRIEF GUIDE TO MIDDLE EASTERN ALLIANCES
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Map by Elizabeth Kendal
click on map to enlarge
click here for pdf

At the heart of the Middle East is Mesopotamia: the land between the two rivers (the Tigris and the Euphrates). Comprising modern-day Syria and Iraq, this resource-rich Fertile Crescent has long been regarded as the cradle of civilisation. The homeland of ancient peoples – Armenians and Assyrians (also known as Syriacs and Chaldeans) – Mesopotamia is today (after numerous invasions, conquests and occupations) both a buffer zone and melting pot. Terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky has labelled it, “the fertile crescent of minorities”.

The Mesopotamian heartland is surrounded by the region’s three imperial powers: TURKEY, ruled today by the Neo-Ottoman, Sunni Islamist regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan; IRAN/Persia, ruled today by its revolutionary Shi’ite clerical regime; and the Wahhabist Kingdom of SAUDI ARABIA representing the Sunni Arabs. Today, as a century of Western hegemony comes to an end, these three imperial powers are struggling not only for hegemony over resource-rich Mesopotamia, but for leadership of the Muslim world.

The Middle East is divided along sectarian lines: between Islam’s two mains sects, the Sunnis (who follow Arab tradition/sunna in being led by a strongman) and the Shi’ites (who maintain that only a blood relative of Muhammad can lead the Muslims). Because Shia doctrine deligitimises all Sunni Caliphs, Sunni Islam has long sought to deligitimise Shi’ism as heresy, and demonise Shi’ites as rafida/rejectionists to be killed. Like the three imperial powers, these two Islamic sects are fighting for hegemony over resource-rich Mesopotamia and for leadership of the Muslim world.

The Middle East is divided along political lines: the north-south Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis comprising NATO-member Turkey and the US-allied Sunni Arabs; and the east-west, Iran-led, Shia-dominated Axis of Resistance (often called the Shia Axis) comprising Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Lebanon’s Hezballah, along with various Sunni “resistance” groups such as Hamas and even al-Qaeda. These powers and groups are united by their commitment to “resisting” America’s and Israel’s presence in the Middle East. ISIS would be in this axis too if ISIS were not so inflexibly takfiri (anti-Shi’ite).

But nothing is ever that simple. Within these political axes the allied states routinely display widely diverging interests -- including economic interests -- and this is where it gets complicated.

Regarding the east-west Iran-led, Shia-dominated Shia Axis / Axis of Resistance.  This axis is not as united as it seems (or is made to seem). The interests of the Alawite-dominated secular government of Bashar al-Assad do not fully align with those of sectarian, revolutionary Shi’ite Tehran. The relationship between the Alawite-dominated government in Damascus and the clerical Shi’ite regime in Tehran is purely strategic. Like Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas, Alawites revere Muhammad as the founder of Islam, but follow as subsequent (and indeed more pacifist) prophet. Alawites follow Abū Shuʿayb Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr (who diverged from Shia Islam), which is why they were historically known as Nusayris. The French convinced them to change their name to Alawites so as to hide their link to Nusayr while emphasising their link to Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law, and the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph of Islam). A century on, the name Nusayr is being revived by fundamentalist Sunni jihadists.

Fundamentalist Islam regards those who follow a subsequent “prophet” as heretics deserving of death. Consequently, when the long-persecuted minority Alawites came to power in Syria (1971), they knew they needed allies. Cognizant of this and sensing an opportunity, Shi’ites in Lebanon and later revolutionary Tehran, proposed an alliance. Since then, the Alawite-led government in Damascus has provided Shi’ite forces with strategic depth, while Lebanese Shi’ites and Tehran provide Syria's minority Alawites with legitimacy and protection. For the Alawites this alliance is about little more than surviving as an existentially imperilled religious minority in a hostile region. For Hezballah and Tehran this alliance is all about geo-politics; they would sacrifice Assad in a flash if he resisted them. Of course Assad knows this, which is precisely why he is looking more to secular Russia (which happens to be pro-Israel) than to sectarian Shi'ite Tehran, which is not merely fighting in Syria, but working to Islamise and “Shi’itise” the Syrians, much to their horror.

Regarding the north-south, US-allied Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis.  This axis contains both pro and anti Muslim Brotherhood (MB) factions. Qatar and Erdogan’s Turkey are strongly pro-MB; while Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, along with President al-Sisi’s Egypt, are strongly anti-MB.

Over recent years the anti-MB faction has grown increasingly frustrated with Qatar, due to the way Qatar uses its state-owned media company, al-Jazeera, as a tool of foreign policy and as a weapon with which it interferes in the affairs of other states. Indeed, al-Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood were central players in the misnamed “Arab Spring” which commenced in Tunisia in December 2010, and either toppled or threatened anti-MB regimes across the region throughout 2011 until it finally met its match in Damascus.

Even within the anti-MB faction, tensions exist between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Not only has Egypt steadfastly refused to send troops into Yemen in support of Saudi forces, but Egypt has also steadfastly rejected Saudi calls to send troops into Syria to help overthrow the Syrian government (which, like al-Sisi, is strongly anti-MB). In October 2016, Egypt voted in favour of a Russian resolution in the US Security Council which called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, particularly in Aleppo, and demanded that all parties prevent material and financial support from reaching groups associated with Al-Qaida including Jabhat al-Nusrah, or  ISIS (ISIL/Da’esh). While the resolution failed (4 in favour, 9 against, 2 abstentions), Saudi Arabia was furious with Egypt. Labelling Egypt’s support for the Russian resolution a “betrayal”, Saudi Arabia immediately suspended its monthly shipments of discounted oil to the cash-strapped state. [Shipments resumed in March 2017.]

Q) Why is anti-MB Saudi Arabia working alongside pro-MB Turkey and pro-MB Qatar to topple the anti-MB government in Syria? As usual, the answer is money, pipelines, oil and gas! In 2009, Damascus rejected a proposal to have a Qatar-Saudi Arabia-[Syria]-Turkey pipeline traverse its territory, thereby stifling Sunni plans to sell gas from the Persian Gulf to Europe. Then, in 2010, Damascus approved a proposal for the construction of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that would transport gas from Persian Gulf to the Syrian coast for export to Europe. Can anyone think of a better reason for the US and NATO-backed Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis to covet regime change in Damascus?

Q) Apart from the threat Shia doctrine presents to the monarchy, why does Saudi Arabia feel so existentially threatened by Iran?  Again, the answer is money, pipelines, oil and gas, along with refineries and the status and power that comes from wealth!

Though Shi’ites comprise only around 10 percent of Muslims worldwide (Sunni Islam having been spread worldwide by nomadic peoples), in the Middle East they comprise around 50 percent. More critically, in the lands around the oil and gas rich Persian Gulf – and that includes Saudi Arabia’s resource-rich Eastern Province – Shi’ites comprise around 80 percent. If Iran ever decided annex Eastern Province – ostensibly on the pretext of rescuing/liberating its persecuted Shi’ite majority – the Saudis would be back in the desert with nothing but camels and sand. And while the Saudis would still be custodians of the Two Holy Mosques (a profitable business indeed!), it is doubtful they could hold that position for long if Iran was in control of all the oil and gas in the region. When we consider all this in the light of the fact that Saudi Arabia’s military is no match for Iran’s, it is easy to understand why the kingdom will do virtually anything to retain its US security umbrella. [See composite map at the top of this article.]

Q) What about the jihadists/terrorists? The jihadists – be they allied to al-Qaeda (which co-operates with Shi’ite Tehran) or ISIS (which refuses to; hence the split) – are all nothing but proxies. All jihadist groups of any significance are totally dependent on state backing, be it from NATO-member neo-Ottoman Islamist Turkey, US-allied Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, or Revolutionary Shi'ite Iran. Cognizant of this, Russia – which has been supporting the government of Syria, at its invitation – has been appealing from the very beginning for an end to the funding and arming of all Islamic militant groups; to no avail.

Q) What about the Christians? In Iraq, the displaced and destitute Assyrian remnant currently has security and liberty in Iraqi Kurdistan, for which they are phenomenally grateful. However, as they watch the Kurds occupy their lands -- remembering, as they do, the long history of massacres and genocides -- the Assyrians cannot help but harbour deep suspicions as to what Kurdish ambitions and intentions might actually entail.

Bishop Moussa enjoys Palm Sunday
parade outside the
Church of Saint Elias in Damascus.
9 April 2017
In Syria, Christians  in government-controlled areas (including many thousands of IDPs) are not only protected, but they enjoy full religious liberty meaning they are free not only to worship but to minister to the wider community. In August 2015 the situation looked dire and had Russia not intervened then the government would surely have fallen. While Hezballah and Tehran are fighting in support of the Assad government, their foreign Shi’ite fighters have no love for Christians. Russia on the other hand, which not only has a long history of relations with and interests in secular Syria, also has an even longer history – a history of which it is very proud – as a protector of Eastern Christians.

Right across the Middle East it is overwhelming the case that Christians, feeling themselves betrayed and abandoned, are no longer looking to the West for help.

Q) What is the US doing in Syria? Having facilitated the rise of Iran (through the removal of Saddam Hussein and the “democratisation” of Shia-majority Iraq) the US is now desperate to rein it in, for an ascendant revolutionary Iran poses an existential threat to America’s allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) and interests in the region.

Though still officially a US ally, Iraq is in reality lost, and is now little more than an Iranian vassal. Consequently the battle against Iran must be fought in Syria. Indeed, for the US, the war in Syria has always been about Iran.

Initially the US-Sunni strategy was to affect regime change in Damascus. Failing that, plan B has been to hammer a north-south Sunni bloc through the east-west Shia Axis to serve as a bulwark and base of operations against Iranian ambitions.

US troops patrol with fighters from
Maghaweir al Thowra (MaT)
(Revolutionary Commando Army) in Tanf.
Long War Journal (14 June)
Having established a garrison in Tanf (near the Syria, Iraq, Jordan border triangle) -- which is now protected on account of its being deemed a "deconfliction zone" -- the US-Turkey-Arab Axis is working with its Sunni militant proxies to establish a Sunni bloc that would stretch from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey through eastern Syria severing the Baghdad-Damascus Hwy, ostensibly under the guise of fighting Islamic State.

Of course this is something the Axis of Resistance powers will not tolerate. . .
. . . meaning this conflict is about to move to a whole new level.



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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Turkey: pianist Fazil Say convicted of blasphemy


BACKGROUND:
The Islamisation of Turkey: the case of Fazil Say
By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 22 October 2012

UPDATE
On Monday 15 April 2013, a Turkish court convicted the country's most renowned virtuoso pianist and composer Fazil Say (43) of blasphemy and insulting religious values over a series of comments he made on Twitter last year. In one "offensive tweet" Say quoted a verse from a poem by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyám: "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?" Say, a strong believer in minority rights and separation of mosque/church and State routinely expressed contempt for pious hypocrisy.

The court sentenced Say to 10 months in jail -- wholly suspended ("supervised release") -- reduced from 12 months due to good behaviour in court. As Say's lawyer, Meltem Akyol, explains, Say would have to serve the term if he commits a similar offence [i.e. saying something that offends Muslims] within the next five years.

Deutsche Welle concludes: "Several years ago, the pianist complained in an interview about deficits in freedom of expression in his country, criticizing what he called the restrictive approach of the conservative government.

"Now convicted of blasphemy, Say may be one step closer to a move he has said he is pondering: leaving Turkey behind for Japan."

See:
Sentencing blow for pianist Fazil Say
Deutsche Welle, 15 April 2013
Quote: German parliamentarian Sevim Dagdelen told Deutsche Welle: "Fazil Say is a very sensitive but also very brave human being. He's not easily intimidated and believes strongly in the separation of church [mosque] and state. He's also a passionate advocate of human, civil and minority rights. . . He's a thorn in the side of the AK Party, because he doesn't censor what he says."

Turkey fears of Islamic challenge to secular state
RT - includes video report by Maria Finoshina. 15 April 2013 Quote: Secular Turks have become increasingly concerned over what they see as the creeping Islamization of society.
"Honestly, we were not expecting this ruling, and all I can say is, both legally and for the country, it's a sad decision," Say's lawyer Meltem Akyol told Reuters. 


Turkish composer Fazil Say convicted of blasphemy and inciting hatred
The pianist describes verdict as 'a sad for Turkey' after being given suspended 10-month prison sentence for series of tweets
Constanze Letsch in Istanbul for the Guardian
Monday 15 April 2013
Quote: Erdogan and his government have been accused of wanting to dismantle Turkish secularism and of curbing freedom of expression. In a report published at the end of last month, Amnesty International called the lack of freedom of speech in Turkey one of the country's "most entrenched human rights problems".

Pianist Fazil Say sentenced over 'insulting religious values' on Twitter
Agence France-Presse in Istanbul, 15 Apr 2013
Fazil Say, the world-renowned pianist, has been handed a 10-month suspended jail term for blasphemy over comments he made on Twitter. 

UPDATE

An Istanbul appellate court has cancelled Fazil Say's jail sentence and ordered a retrial citing irregularities in his initial trial. This leaves me (EK) wondering if Turkey is embarrased by the Fazil Say episode and seeking a way out. NOTE: a reversal of result for Say would only stand as a precedent for Turks with equivalent degrees of international fame.

Turkish pianist to be retried for insulting Islam
Turkish Press, 27 April 2013

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Islamisation of Turkey: the case of Fazil Say

by Elizabeth Kendal

For background on the Islamisation of Turkey see my earlier post:
Erodgan, Ergenekon, Europe and the Islamisation of Turkey
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 13 Oct 2012

The Case of Fazil Say

Energetic, world renowned virtuoso classical and jazz pianist Fazil Say (42) has filled concert halls around the world, performing with the philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Israel. He has also served as a cultural ambassador for the European Union.

In April, in the course of a Twitter conversation, Say retweeted a verse by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam which mocks pious Islamic hypocrisy by asking believers: "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven: is heaven a tavern to you? / You say two houris [beautiful virgins] await each believer there: is heaven a brothel to you?"

Other tweets to have caused "offense" include one where Say joked about a call to prayer that lasted only 22 seconds. "Why such haste?" Say tweeted. "Have you got a mistress waiting or a raki [alcoholic drink] on the table?"

And another: "I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there's a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it's always an Islamist."

Three people filed complaints, and on 1 June, prosecutors charged Say with inciting hatred and public enmity, and with insulting "religious values". He faces a maximum 18 months prison term, although any sentence is likely to be suspended.

On Tuesday 16 Oct, Say sent a note to a gathering of artists in which he said he was "amazed" he was having to appear in the dock. "All my life, I have represented the modern face of Turkey to the world through my art," he said. "I feel weird because I am facing the threat of being punished with a case like this."

AFP reports: "Say has also often criticised the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accusing it of having a secret agenda to Islamise Turkey.

"In April, Say told the Hurriyet newspaper that he felt completely ostracised by Turkish society since he declared that he was an atheist, an experience that for him highlighted a growing culture of intolerance."

At a concert performance the night before his 18 October court appearance, Say read out a prepared statement: "Many intellectual friends, journalists are behind bars for reasons we can't know or understand.

"I can't even begin to explain this era. Believe me this reminds me of Nazi Germany the most.

"It is perhaps an honor to be tried because of retweeting a verse of Khayyam in an era like this. . . I have committed no crime. . . We are modern individuals, not a flock.

"If this is a dark era, then let us enlighten it."

On 18 October, "a visibly upset Say" told the Istanbul court, " I reject all the accusations."

AFP reports: "In a written defence submitted to the court, Say said he did not seek to insult anybody, but was merely expressing his uneasiness with people who were abusing religion for their own benefits. 'What I have done as an artist is to share my thoughts with my followers. . .  It is clear that I haven’t invited anybody to spread violence, or jeopardised public peace.'"

Say's lawyers requested an immediate acquittal; however this was rejected. The court adjourned the case to 18 February 2013.

Turkey -- a model of Islamic democracy?

See:
Tweeting Turkish pianist Fazil Say denies religious insult charge
By Nick Tattersall, Reuters, 19  October 2012 

Turkish pianist on trial for insulting Islam
Reuters, Thursday Oct 18, 2012

Turkish pianist ‘insulted Islam’
AFP, October 19, 2012

Turkish musician accused of Islam insults
By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul October 18, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Erodgan, Ergenekon, Europe and the Islamisation of Turkey


By Elizabeth Kendal

A column by Andrew C. McCarthy, in National Review Online, has motivated me to find time -- between writing on pogroms, massacres, dispossession, imprisonments and tortures -- to highlight a grossly under-appreciated and deeply-controversial matter: How Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is exploiting European ignorance and timidity to advance Islamisation in Turkey.

In his column, entitled, "Why Turkey Will Never Join the EU" (NRO, 29 Sept 2012), McCarthy has a lot to say about Turkey, Islam and Europe that is of critical importance.  I have long shared his view. It is a position that has frequently put me at odds with European evangelicals.

McCarthy opens with these words: "When Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey, it was anything but clear that he would last more than a few months. The military, the constitutional guardian of Atatürk's secular order, had killed the Islamist administration of Erdogan's mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, only a few years earlier. At the time, Erdogan was jailed for several months as a seditionist. Though he was nonetheless permitted to assume the prime minister's office in 2003 after leading his Islamist party to victory, the man who famously proclaimed 'I am a servant of sharia' still aroused great suspicion.

"To survive and thrive, Erdogan would have to find ways to erode and nullify his Kemalist opponents. Thanks to Europe, he had cards to play."

As McCarthy notes, Turkish integration into the West had long been a "Kemalist dream". Erdogan, however, knows the truth: European leaders will never accept Turkey into the European Union (EU).

Terrified of being accused of Islamophobia, European elites have opened their arms to Turkey while setting up a process -- a series of hoops through which Turkey must jump -- the end result of which will be EU-Integration. Knowing Turkey will never achieve EU-integration -- and not caring, because he doesn't actually want it -- Erdogan is masterfully exploiting the situation to advance his own agenda: the Islamisation of Turkey.

"For", writes McCarthy, "among the steps Turkey must theoretically climb on the ladder to Euro-worthiness are religious liberty, the separation of religion and the state, and civilian control of the military. As Erdogan saw, the EU-integration process was the surest way to cow the generals into accepting elected Islamists and to break secularist constraints on Islamic supremacism."

McCarthy describes Islam as "totalitarianism packaged as 'religion'". I likewise have described Islam as totalitarianism concealed under or protected by a cloak of religion. It is precisely because socio-political, imperialistic, totalitarian Islam covers itself with "religion", it can appeal to religious liberty every time it is challenged. Furthermore, it is precisely because Islam is totalitarian and supremacist, that "liberty and Sharia cannot share the same space".

"In Turkey," writes McCarthy, "the administrators of the Kemalist governmental model — comprising Muslims who understood Islam intimately [better than the EU] — suppressed Islam not to deny freedom of conscience but to enable it. They were trying to forge exactly the sort of secular civil society Europeans revere. They knew it could not coexist with sharia. Thus, the government assumed supervision of the country's 80,000 mosques, vetted the imams, controlled the content of sermons and literature, and aggressively monitored the Islamic charities. The Muslims running the state realized that Islam would inevitably work against secular civil society if left to its own devices. [. . .]

McCarthy makes the point that the difference between Turkey and the West, is that Turkey has been trying to "cultivate freedom in an Islamic setting, not preserve freedom in a preexisting culture of liberty". And, he notes, "In a mainstream-Islamic society, the threat of reversion to a freedom-devouring sharia societal system always looms."

"Kemalist Muslims wanted a flourishing civil society but realized they could not keep one unless Islam's supremacist proclivities were permanently checked. Though very far from perfect, they were trying to establish a prosperous, Western-style nation-state. The Kemalists, unlike sharia adherents, never sought to strangle freedom of conscience. There was never any prohibition on being a Muslim, believing in Islam, or privately adhering to Islam's spiritual elements. It was Islam's extra-spiritual aspects — political, social, economic, military, etc. — that were the problem. Without the military as a bulwark against Islamic supremacism, freedom of conscience and liberty in general would be doomed."

But, as McCarthy notes, Europe will have none of it, arrogantly insisting that history is flowing irresistibly towards European-style secular humanism and Western-style democracy.

To summarise: European elites don't actually want Turkey in the EU. But rather than stand accused of Islamophobia, they hold out the promise of integration, as soon as Turkey reaches the unreachable state of "reformed". Meanwhile, Erdogan ,who has nothing but Islamist contempt for the West and would not join the EU unless it was to dominate it, "continues to leverage this European pressure for Turkish reform because it serves the Islamist cause of weakening the Turkish military and breaking Atatürk's shackles on supremacist Islam — all under the ironic guise of promoting 'religious liberty'."

See: Why Turkey Will Never Join the EU 
By Andrew C. McCarthy
National Review Online, 29 Sept 2010.

ERGENEKON

One of the most significant scams Erodgan has pulled off, enabling him to repress and persecute all opposition while still impressing the Europeans, has been the Ergenekon investigation.

Supposedly created to prosecute members of a "Deep State" conspiracy, the Ergenekon investigation has been used to harass, persecute and silence opposition, particularly those associated with the Constitutional Court and the Military.

Hundreds of Turks -- including journalists, academics, geriatric authors, transsexual actors etc as well as Kemalist politicians, Generals and judges -- have been detained without charge and without evidence, for no other apparent reason than they expressed opposition to Erdogan's pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi - AKP) or to the Islamisation of Turkey in general.

The AKP also exploits the Ergenekon investigation as a means to shift the blame for every act of Islamic religious hatred or terrorism on to secularists. "It goes without saying that a disinformation campaign which holds Ergenekon ultimately responsible for all the violence previously attributed to Islamist groups is unlikely to encourage those who are best-placed to identify potential Islamist terrorists to be more vigilant." (Jenkins, Terrorism Monitor, 3 Oct 2008)

In a parallel case code-named "Sledgehammer", more than 300 active and retired military officers were recently sentenced to prison terms on charges relating to an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government. Bill Park, a senior lecturer who specialises in Turkish foreign and security policy at King's College, London, comments that as a worst case scenario, "Kemalist/secularist officers are now more generally purged as part of an Islamist long march through Turkey's institutions".

Ergenekon -- Recommended reading:

Turkey's New Islamism
By David Pryce-Jones, National Review Online, 27 Sept 2012

Erdogan, Ergenekon, and the Struggle for Turkey
By Michael Rubin, Middle East Forum, 8 Aug 2008.

Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Silk Road Studies Program
Silk Road Paper,  by Gareth H. Jenkins, August 2009.

The Impact of the Ergenekon Investigation on Turkish Counterterrorism Operations
Jamestown, Terrorism Monitor, Volume: 6 Issue: 19
By Gareth Jenkins, 3 October 2008

includes Sledgehammer 

ERGENEKON, SLEDGEHAMMER, AND THE POLITICS OF TURKISH JUSTICE: CONSPIRACIES AND COINCIDENCES
GLORIA Centre, Global Research in International Affairs.
By Gareth Jenkins, 29 August 2011

The Ergenekon investigation gets out of control
Caspian Intelligence, 10 January 2012

Turkey's Sledgehammer Coup verdict: justice or Soviet-style show trial?
Turkish court's jailing of hundreds of military officers over Erdogan coup plot revives fears of return to authoritarian rule.
By Simon Tisdall, for the Guardian, 25 September 2012

Turkey’s Massive Military Trial Opens Old Wounds and New Anxieties
Claims of procedural and evidentiary anomalies in a huge trial of coup plotters raise criticism of the Erdogan administration. Is the Prime Minister trying too hard to bury the military — and Turkish secularism?
By Pelin Turgut in Istanbul for TIME, 24 Sept 2012

Hundreds Convicted in Turkish Coup Trial
By EMRE PEKER, Wall Street Journal
21 September 2012.

The Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations are not the only show trial campaigns being waged against those who oppose Erdogan, the AKP and/or Islamisation.

In a trial that has been dubbed the KCK case, "193 men and women are being judged on charges of 'membership in an illegal organization', legalese for 'terrorism'. The defendants were arrested for either teaching or taking classes at academies set up by the BDP, the Peace and Democracy Party, a liberal coalition political party dominated by the Kurdish minority and dedicated to establishing equality for all of Turkey's minorities. According to the ruling AK Party under Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan, participation in any form at these academies -- even the tea servers were arrested -- meant membership in the KCK, the urban branch of the Kurdish guerrilla movement.

"Among these supposed trainers of Kurdish terrorists in the mountains are also non-Kurds, such as Ragip Zarakolu, a publisher and Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Busra Ersanli, a professor of political science. Authorities have charged the aged and infirm as well, including Zekiye Ayik, an elderly woman who never learned to read or write, and Muhsin Yenisöz, a man who has to be frequently hospitalized for heart disease. These four, due to significant outside pressure, were released on bond at the end of the first phase of the trial in July, but are still being tried. Most of the defendants remain in prison, including my 60 year old father-in-law, Kemal Seven, a former elementary school teacher and instructor at the academies."

From: Turkey's Treacherous Show Trials
By Jeffrey Wade Gibbs, for Gatestone Institute. 1 October 2012
Gibbs is an American writer and teacher who has been living in Istanbul for five years.

None of this bodes well for religious freedom or for the Church in Turkey. Incredibly though, it is all being done in the name of religious liberty and democracy, to cheers and congratulations from the West.

It is a travesty that the European Parliament has supported these clearly political investigations which do nothing to advance democracy or liberty but plenty to advance totalitarianism, Islamisation and a climate of fear.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Turkish nationalism threatens Christians.

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."


Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Murders shine spotlight on evangelical activity in Turkey
By Yigal Schleifer, 25 April 2007
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav042507.shtml

2) Book: Banking on Baghdad
Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict.
By Edwin Black
Wiley 2004

3) Malatya Murder Trial Set to Open in Turkey
Local press sensationalizes killers' justifications for deaths by torture.
Compass Direct, 5 Nov 2007
http://www.compassdirect.org

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
http://www.compassdirect.org

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
http://www.bianet.org/english/kategori/english/103126/malatya-murder-case-postponed
SEE ALSO
Judiciary under international spotlight in the murder of Christians in Malatya
The New Anatolian / Ankara, 26 November 2007
http://www.thenewanatolian.com/tna-29736.html
AND
Turks in Christian murder trial. BBC 23 Nov 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7108607.stm
AND
Five on trial in Turkey for missionary murders
By Nicholas Birch in Istanbul. 24 Nov 2007
http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article3191522.ece

6) What is going on in the Malatya massacre case?
By Orhan Kemal Cengiz, 22 November 2007
http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=89265

FURTHER ANALYSIS
Forum 18. TURKEY: What causes intolerance and violence? 29 Nov 2007
By Guzide Ceyhan. http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1053

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Turkey: German Seminary investigates Malatya murders

Date: Tuesday 1 May 2007
Subj: Turkey: German Seminary investigates Malatya murders
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


The following report from Martin Bucer Seminary (MBS) Bonn, Germany, was compiled by Titus Vogt, MBS Dean of International Programs. The English translation was done by Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D., MBS Professor of Apologetics and Ethics.

Elizabeth Kendal WEA RLC

-----------------------------------------------------

THE LAST HOURS OF THE THREE MARTYRS:
Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske


The assassins deceived the victims in order to gain their trust.

Martin Bucer Seminary (Bonn, Germany) reconstructs the last hours of its student, Necati Aydin.

Martin Bucer Seminary (MBS) Dean for International Programs, Titus Vogt, led an investigation into the tragic events of 18 April 2007 by means of putting together the statements from all the witnesses. MBS remains close to the victims, survivors, and witnesses to the brutal murder in Malatya through its Turkish branch, as one of the victims, Necati Aydin, was their student. Until now, MBS has hesitated to give all the details to the public, but MBS President Thomas Schirrmacher has concluded now that nothing stands in the way of a full public statement of all the details.

MURDERERS SPENT MONTHS SURREPTITIOUSLY GAINING THE TRUST OF THE VICTIMS

Some months ago the murderers gained the trust of their intended victims. To do this, the assassins indicated an interest in the Christian faith and said they wanted more information about the Bible and its contents. What deception could be more powerful to Bible publishers who were themselves adult converts from Islam to Christianity? Under this guise, they met repeatedly with their future victims. Clearly the attack was planned well in advance.

On the morning of 18 April, two of the murderers came to the office of Zirve Publishing House in Malatya, which is an extension of a Protestant publisher based in Istanbul, with distribution offices in various Turkish cities. Among other things, they discussed the Christian faith with Necati Aydin, as they had done frequently over the previous months. On this particular morning, in addition to Tilmann Geske, the bookkeeper, Emin M., was also in the office. Everything seemed to be completely normal. In the course of the morning, M. left the office, not suspecting that he would never see Aydin and Geske alive again.

Shortly thereafter the three other assassins arrived and tied up the first two victims, while they threatened them with pistols. Two days before, the assassins had been taken into custody because of wielding weapons in public, but they had been set free because they were only carrying warning pistols.

As soon as the victims were tied up, the murderers began stabbing them with knives all over their bodies. A short time later Ugur Yuksel came into the office; he was immediately grabbed by the murderers and tied up. Right after that Gokhan H., also a Christian, stopped by the Zirve office, but he could not open the door, because it was locked from inside and the lock was jammed. H. tried to call the office and finally reached Ugur on the telephone. Ugur said that the planned meeting was not going to be held in the Zirve office; it would instead be held in a particular hotel. H. had the impression that something was wrong, so he called a friend in the city. This friend advised him to call the police, which Gokham H. did.

When the police arrived a few minutes later, the victims were still alive. The police demanded that the criminals open the door, at which they slit the throats of the victims. When the police forced the door and stormed the office, they found Aydin and Geske already dead. Yuksel was still alive and was rushed to a local hospital. In spite of emergency surgery and 51 units of blood, he died of his numerous and massive knife wounds.

The autopsy reports lead to the following picture: The bodies were covered with about 156 knife wounds in the pelvis area, lower body, anus, abdomen, and back. Their fingertips had been sliced repeatedly; and they had massive slashes on their necks which severed the windpipe and oesophagus.

The distinctively ritual manner of the murder, particularly the slicing of fingertips, is convincing observers of the consciously religious motivation of the assassins. The perpetrators seem to have been following the instructions of Sure 8:12, from the Koran. There it says (in the Rudi Paret German translation of the Koran), "I will strike terror into the hearts of unbelievers. Flay their necks (with a sword) and strike every finger." The last half of the sentence is translated in even more striking terms in some versions. In the Rassoul and Zaidan translation it says, "chop off every finger;" the Azhar and Ahmadeyya translation says, "chop off every finger tip."

Three of the attackers were arrested directly in the office, where the attack was occurring; two tried to escape by climbing down an external downspout pipe. One more attacker was arrested in the second floor of the building, one floor below the crime scene. The final assassin, who is described by the others as the leader of the group, fell to the street from a significant height when the downspout pipe broke off from the wall of the building. He was brought to a hospital and spent some days in a coma, but he is now awake and is being questioned by police.

In the course of the next few days, some other suspects were taken into custody, including the son of a mayor (AKP party) from a town near to Malatya.

FIRST TURKISH MARTYRS SINCE 1923

At a press conference a day after the attack, Pastor Ihsan Ozbek (from Ankara), President of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, said "Yesterday Turkey was buried in the darkness of the Middle East." He compared the common, country-wide, widely hawked conspiracy theories which accuse Christians of conspiring against Muslims with the medieval witch hunts in Europe. These conspiracy theories contain a deep phobia of foreign missionaries. In responding to an inquiry of why Geske, a foreign missionary, was in Malatya, Ozbek said this is already an unconscionable question, since in a truly democratic state one may not ask "why are you or they in Malatya?" The pastor used very pointed words to portray the background of the murders which led the Turkish media to entitle a report on the news conference, "A gruesome brutality, but no surprise." Ozbek said he was convinced that, "it is not the last martyrdom, though we hope from the bottom of our hearts that it could be the last martyrdom."

Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel are the first known Muslim converts to Christianity to be martyred, since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Ugur Yuksel was buried according to Islamic/Alevitic rituals at the orders of his family which vehemently denies his Christian faith. The German victim was buried on 20 April in the Armenian cemetery in Malatya, following the wishes of his widow. This occurred after a bitter fight with the local authorities who unconditionally wanted to prevent Geske's burial in their city. Because of pressure applied by the German government, his burial was only delayed by three hours, from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Eye witnesses say that about 100 mourners from across Turkey came to his funeral. Necati Aydin, who was pastor of the local Protestant church in addition to his work in the Zirve Publishing House, was laid to rest on Saturday, 21 April, in his home town of Izmir. The roughly 500 mourners who attended his funeral were very deeply moved.

MEDIA STORM IN TURKEY


There has been an enormous media storm in Turkey following these events. Many Turks sent letters to the newspapers to express their deep disgust. The widow, Susanne Geske, earned tremendous admiration for her words in a TV interview the day after the massacre. She said she forgave the murderers of her husband, the way Christ forgave his murderers, citing Jesus' prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." This is the reason why she wants to stay in Malatya with her children. Many letters to the newspapers are saying that now they really want to read the New Testament or even to describe themselves as Christians, since they no longer want to have anything to do with Islam.

This brutal attack is not really the act of a group of deluded youth, since the media has been provoking antagonism against Christians for a long time. One of the most harmless media lies is that Christian are paying Muslims to convert to Christianity; one of the more disturbing is that Christians offer prostitutes to Muslims, in order to entice them to become Christians. Two events related to the funeral of Necati Aydin serve to illustrate the deep ambivalence of Turkish society toward Christians. When his coffin was to be flown from Malatya to Izmir, it would not fit into the x-ray machine in airport security. The Turkish newspapers reported that the airport security staff simply broke the handles off the coffin, a sign of their feelings. And during his funeral, one of the police officers standing guard over the funeral called one of the mourners "a son of a whore."

Last Sunday (22 April 2007) the services of many Protestant churches took place under heavy police guard. In one small congregation in one of the parts of Istanbul, two top local police officials came to enquire about their security needs and to urgently suggest the installation of an alarm system and security cameras. And because of the continuing massive threats, many pastors are now accompanied by security guards. This causes great concern for believers in Turkey. In spite of truly positive developments in the realm of freedom of religion in recent years, they now see their freedom of religion as deeply threatened.

END