Threats, Violence against Turkish Christians on Upswing

Compass Direct News

Threats, Violence against Turkish Christians on Upswing

October 8, 2007

President: ‘There are no attacks targeting Christians in Turkey.’

LOS ANGELES – Turkish Protestants have reported increasing attacks and threats in recent months despite claims by President Abdullah Gul this week that Christians in Turkey are not targeted.

Believers told Compass that threats have increased since two Turkish Christian converts and a German Christian were tortured and killed at Zirve Publishing House in Malatya on April 18. Neighbors have threatened Christian radio station workers in Ankara in recent weeks, and a visitor to Antalya’s Bible Church this summer attacked an elderly member with a chair.

Antalya Bible Church pastor Ramazan Arkan said that he is pursuing four court cases against Rasim Eryildiz, a construction worker who began threatening church members in May.

“He came approximately 15 times to harass us,” Arkan said. “Every time he’d come, we would complain to the police. They would arrest him and then let him go.”

After one such incident on June 22, Eryildiz returned drunk the next morning and began shouting vulgarities at a Christian who was trying to enter the church.

“I will kill you and turn this into a Malatya incident,” Eryildiz said. “I will f--- this church’s priest and kill him.”

But at a court hearing on July 31, judge Hakan Sil decided to free Eryildiz. The following week, neighbors warned Arkan that the construction worker had been looking for the pastor in his home. The next hearing is scheduled for November 11.

On August 19, following a Sunday morning service, Altan Gultekin, a visitor who claimed to be a Christian, grabbed a chair in the church garden and leveled an 82-year-old church member.

“[Gultekin] was about to hit the man a second time when our friends jumped on him and subdued him until the police could arrive,” Arkan said.

The blow badly cut the elderly Christian’s arm and head. “There was blood everywhere, but fortunately one of the believers is a doctor and was able to do some emergency treatment right away,” Arkan said.

At a local hospital emergency room, doctors gave the Christian nine stitches in his arm and another 12 in his head.

Gultekin began threatening to murder Arkan when the pastor told police that he wanted to open a court case against the attacker. But later, at the police station, officials told Arkan that only the victim of the attack could press charges. In addition, they claimed that Gultekin had been diagnosed with psychological problems.

“Police told me, ‘Ramazan [Arkan], even if you become a complainant it won’t change anything, because he has a medical report and he’ll be set free,” Arkan said.

The elderly victim of the attack declined to file an official complaint against Gultekin.

On August 24, the week of the attack, Arkan submitted an official request for police protection for his church. Since then, officers have stepped up patrols around the building, and plainclothes officers sit in the church garden during services.

“The interesting thing is that until I went to the police [to request protection], we always suffered from this harassment, whether from Altan Gultekin or Rasim Eryildiz,” Arkan said. “But as soon as I went, the threats ended just like that. It shows they can stop this if they want.”

Media Buzz

Despite the threats, Arkan said that he believes Christians in Antalya, one of Turkey’s most popular tourist destinations, have an easier situation than believers in other areas of the country.

“The police here have been very helpful, most of the pressure we experience is from the media,” Arkan said.

The pastor has appealed a court case he lost against local newspaper Kitle, which published an article claiming the church was traumatizing children by putting on a passion play.

In February 21 front page article titled, “Scandal in the Church,” the paper cited anonymous psychologists who said that baptizing children could cause lasting trauma. The article printed pictures of a passion play from the church website and claimed that the church was playing on the emotions of youth by making them smear tomato paste on their faces and then “crucifying” them.

“All of these events take place in front of small innocent children who come to the church,” the article stated.

On March 2, an Antalya court ruled against Arkan, saying that the pastor could not sue the newspaper for slander because his name was not used in the article, though it referred several times to the “church pastor.”

“This is a pretty serious thing, because they are trying to destroy our reputation with the people here,” Arkan said.

Threats at the Front Door

Christian radio station staff members in Ankara have also seen an increase in threats from visitors to their front door since the Malatya attacks in April.

“Actually, it was only after Malatya that this started,” Radio Shema Director Soner Tufan said. “Before, they wouldn’t directly contact us. Sometimes they would fax us or e-mail us, but they wouldn’t even call us on the telephone.”

Tufan said that, since May, at least three times a month men have come to the station’s door and threatened workers. One man ran away when a radio staff member opened the door, but he telephoned the office minutes later to say, “We’ll tear this place down on top of you, you’re doing missionary work.”

In order to beef up security, radio staff members installed a video camera outside their front door and now refuse to open up for anyone they don’t know.

Using security camera footage, police managed to arrest four of the culprits on July 24. Several of the men turned out to be members of a local sports association whose offices are located in the apartment across the corridor from the radio station.

After taking their statements, officials released the men. A date has yet to be set for the first hearing.

“Most recently, we had one man come on Thursday last week at 8:10 a.m.,” Tufan said. “He told us over the intercom that he was a policeman who was there to do a routine check.”

Tufan said that radio personnel refused to open the door, and the man eventually left. When the Christians discussed the visit with the local security office later in the day, officials denied that they had sent anyone to the radio station that morning.

A second man rang the bell two hours later, claiming to be a salesman. Using security camera footage, radio staff members watched from inside the apartment as he eventually gave up waiting for the door to open and went into the sports association offices across the hall.

Two months ago, the radio station installed shutters over its windows to prevent them from being broken almost weekly, Tufan said.

President in Denial

“There are no attacks targeting Christians in Turkey,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul told a Council of Europe gathering in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday (October 3).

He claimed that attacks against Christians were “political crimes,” and mentioned the murder of Catholic Priest Andrea Santoro in February 2006, according to an October 4 article in the Turkish Daily News. He said that the murderer, a juvenile, had been quickly captured and tried before independent courts.

An Ankara appeals court yesterday upheld the murderer’s jail sentence of 18 years and 10 months. During initial police interrogations, the killer reportedly confessed that he had murdered the priest as revenge against Danish cartoons of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

Gul did not mention the brutal torture and murder in April of the three Christians at Zirve offices in Malatya. The murderers said they had killed the Christians to serve their country and because the Christians were attacking their religion, according to initial press reports.

“In the last year, there have been scores of threats or attacks on congregations and church buildings,” a report by the legal committee of the Turkish Alliance of Protestant Churches said last month.

“It’s not really possible for the government be completely unaware of this,” Tufan said. “There has been an increase of attacks since Malatya.”

Copyright 2007 Compass Direct News

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