Saturday, 15 October 2016

Armenian News... A Topalian... The State of Human & Religious Rights in Turkey

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Subject: Fwd: F18News Summary: Kazakhstan; Turkey;
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From: Forum 18 <>
Date: 14 October 2016 at 20:35:15 GMT+10
Subject: F18News Summary: Kazakhstan; Turkey;


The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief


10 October 2016
Sunni Muslim Baurzhan Beisembai was sentenced in Oskemen to two and a half
years' imprisonment for alleged membership of Tabligh Jamaat missionary
movement. Six others were imprisoned and two given restricted freedom. A
further imprisonment in Aktobe means 41 such convictions since December

13 October 2016
Turkey's failed coup attempt, ongoing and new security threats and
government actions have long-term implications for the rule of law with the
freedoms of religion and belief, assembly, association and expression.
Immediate measures are necessary to protect religious or belief communities
directly affected by conflict and terror.
* See full article below. *

13 October 2016
By Mine Yildirim, Norwegian Helsinki Ctte

The failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016 and government actions have deeply
shaken the Turkish state and wider society. The coup attempt targeted
ordinary people, elected authorities and key institutions of democracy and
met strong condemnation and resistance across political parties. Both the
failed coup and its roots, as well as measures taken since the coup, have
long-term implications in a number of crucial areas. These include good
governance, freedom of religion or belief and security, and the state's
relationship with society including religious actors.

The coup attempt is attributed to the Gulen movement, a movement led by
self-exiled Sunni Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The government accuses the
movement of infiltrating state structures for security, the judiciary,
education, and numerous ministries. The coup attempt is presented as the
latest attempt by the Gulen movement to take control of the state. Tensions
between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its former ally
the Gulen movement culminated with December 2014 corruption claims
emanating from Gulen. These implicated leading AKP politicians, including
current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family.

Developments since the coup

Developments since the 15 July coup attempt include the postponement of
needed legal and institutional democratic reforms, along with state actions
which impact people's possibilities to effectively exercise freedom of
religion or belief, and its associated freedoms of expression, association
and peaceful assembly. Government measures, including state of emergency
measures, have damaged Turkey's human rights protection framework. These
measures include far-reaching changes to the justice system which started
before the coup, and increased religious-nationalist approaches to issues
by the government since the coup.

Evidence of ill treatment in custody compiled by the Human Rights
Foundation of Turkey among others, particularly in the early response to
the alleged perpetrators of the coup attempt as well as in south-east
Turkey, indicates a serious need for independent monitoring of state
institutions' implementation of their international human rights
obligations. The impact on the overall state of democracy of the swift
removal of judges and other personnel in the state apparatus, along with
the closure of universities, associations, television channels and
newspapers under state of emergency decrees, has yet to become fully clear.

As human rights are inter-dependent, government actions will lead to a
deterioration in the state's ability to implement its binding international
legal obligations to protect human rights, including freedom of religion or

These developments damage the security of both the state and wider society,
as the government's Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE) commitments underline. For example, the Charter of Paris for a New
Europe states: "Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of
all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their
protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government. Respect
for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty State. Their
observance and full exercise are the foundation of freedom, justice and
peace" (see <>).

The judicial system

There has long been reason to be sceptical about the ability of the justice
system to provide remedies to long-standing and more recent violations of
freedom of religion or belief and other fundamental freedoms (see Forum
18's Turkey religious freedom survey
<>). For example, the
politicisation of the judiciary dates back many years, to before the AKP
was founded in 2001.

Since 15 July 2016, the government has claimed that an organisation called
FETÖ (Gulenist Terror Organisation) had infiltrated the judiciary. This,
the government states, makes many past legal judgments questionable. On 16
July the government removed over 2,700 judges and has since 15 July removed
about 80,000 officials from all government agencies. Many of those removed
are also under arrest. This, along with how new personnel are recruited,
and the government's new structure for the judiciary which it was
implementing before the coup, will inevitably affect how courts deal with
freedom of religion and belief and other fundamental freedom issues.

A just and independent judicial system is an essential precondition for the
protection of freedom of religion or belief and linked fundamental
freedoms. But whether such a just and independent justice system exists has
long been questioned in cases ranging from the return of property to murder

The extraordinarily long-delayed 28 September 2016 verdict in the case of
the brutal murders of three Christians from the local Zirve Publishing
House on 18 April 2007 in Malatya, south-east Turkey, is a case in point.
The five suspects were sentenced to three life sentences each after being
convicted of "premeditated murder". But all five convicted murderers would
remain free, subject only to routine surveillance, while the case was
appealed to two higher courts, World Watch Monitor reported on 29
September. That same evening all five murderers were re-arrested after the
prosecutor expressed fears they may flee Turkey. As well as the murder
convictions, two Gendarmerie officers were convicted of crimes related to
the case, but no other public officials strongly suspected of involvement
in instigating the murders were convicted. The court found that the five
murderers could not have committed their crimes without help, but was not
able to identify the organisation involved and called for "further

How this and other similar cases have been handled cannot be said to
discourage any possible future instigators and perpetrators of such crimes.
Instead, the state's actions and inactions have seriously damaged the
confidence of vulnerable groups - not only Christians - in Turkey's justice

Religious-nationalist approaches

Religious-nationalist approaches to problems in society have increased
since the failed coup attempt. On the night of the coup attempt, the
Directorate of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet, which reports to the Prime
Minister's Office - see F18News 4 May 2011
<>) instructed all
110,000 imams at 85,0000 mosques via text messaging to call the public to
defend democracy. Sala prayers were frequently heard from mosques around
the country almost simultaneously all night. These are traditionally read
to announce a funeral at a mosque. But during the Ottoman era, sala prayers
were read to announce difficult times during wars. Some imams just read the
sala prayer periodically throughout the night and for some days after the
coup attempt. Others also read announcements to the public informing them
where to assemble, and encouraging people to defend democracy and not to
stay at home and leave public spaces.

Virtually all parts of society opposed the coup attempt, including
secularists, non-Muslims and Alevis. There was a strong demonstration of
political unity against the failed coup at a 7 August rally in Yenikapi by
the AKP government with two of the three main opposition parties and the
Chief of the General Staff, who was himself held hostage by coup plotters.
However, the third largest party, the People's Democratic Party (HDP), was
not invited to the rally because the AKP accuses it of supporting the
outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

But despite strong opposition to the coup throughout society, the dominant
approach since the coup in government and the media has been a combination
of Hanafi Sunni Islam and Turkish nationalism. Advocacy of a monolithic
Turkish religious-nationalist identity has long created problems in
exercising human rights, including the risk of violent attack, for Turkish
people who are neither nationalist nor Sunni Hanafi Muslim (see Forum 18's
Turkey religious freedom survey

If religious-nationalist approaches continue to determine post-coup attempt
policies, human rights protection is highly unlikely to improve. The AKP's
power has been reinforced since the coup attempt, and President Erdogan's
views dominate in forming post-coup polices. His announced policies
affecting freedom of religion and belief include restructuring the state
apparatus, changing education including religious education, and changing
the role of the Diyanet.

As it was a religious community which allegedly plotted the coup attempt,
President Erdogan has repeatedly spoken about what he describes as "abuse
of religion" and the measures that he insists must be taken against this.
For example, at an extraordinary 3 August Diyanet meeting entitled "15 July
Coup Attempt and Unity and Solidarity Against Abuse of Religion and
Perspectives on the Future", Erdogan underlined what he saw as the need to
reform religious institutions. What this means remains to be seen.
Ironically, the phrase "to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings,
or things held sacred by religion" was put into the Turkish Constitution by
secularists with a view to preventing the kinds of policies associated with
the AKP. It has been a vehicle for limiting freedom of religion or belief
since before the AKP came to power.

In another example, on 8 September Aljazeera Turk interviewed Diyanet
Vice-President Mehmet Emin Ozafsar about a range of post-coup attempt
issues affecting policies on religion and belief. He spoke in unclear terms
about the need to register religious communities and in particular jamaat
(Islamic brotherhoods), stating that registration is necessary so that
"these "structures don't become a threat".

In Turkey, no religious community (including Islamic communities) is
allowed legal personality, contradicting international law as outlined in
the OSCE/Venice Commission Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious
or Belief Communities (see <>). Turkey is
both an OSCE participating State and a Venice Commission member state. The
Venice Commission, in its 2010 Opinion on the Legal Status of Religious
Communities in Turkey and the Right of the Orthodox Patriarchate of
Istanbul to use the adjective "Ecumenical", called on Turkey "to adopt
immediately measures that would lead to the recognition of the legal
personality of established, religious minority institutions and
communities" (see ). The
government has yet to implement this recommendation.

Diyanet Vice-President Ozafsar, speaking in the context of Islam, also
raised the issue of "parallel curricula of religious education" referring
to religious instruction given by religious communities. He said that
religious education should not be given in secret but that there should be
inspection by the public authorities. It remains unclear whether what
Ozafsar had in mind will resolve long-standing problems in relation to
religious communities exercising freedom of religion and belief in teaching
(see eg. F18News 20 August 2013

Debate about the legal status of religious communities is much needed, not
least as the Islamic brotherhoods are banned under Law No 677 ("Closure of
Dervish Convents and Tombs, the Abolition of the Office of Keeper of Tombs
and the Abolition and Prohibition of Certain Titles"), one of the laws
protected from change by the Constitution (see Forum 18's Turkey religious
freedom survey <>). So
this may be an important opportunity to bring Turkey's legislation and
practice into line with international law. But it is unclear whether any
proposals that the AKP and Diyanet are developing will be compatible with
international human rights law.

Long-standing problems

Turkey has long-standing freedom of religion and belief issues, which even
before the coup required fundamental changes to both laws and state
practices to resolve. These include enforcing European Court of Human
Rights (ECtHR) judgments on: the right to conscientious objection to
military service; the right to raise one's children in line with one's
religious or philosophical views; the right to establish places of worship;
prohibition of discrimination based on religion or belief; and the right
not to disclose one's religious identity.

Other fundamental issues not yet considered by the ECtHR include but are
not limited to: the impossibility of religious communities acquiring legal
personality; and the impossibility of religious communities providing
formal education and training in Turkey in religion or belief for their
clergy and followers (see the latest Norwegian Helsinki Committee: Turkey
Freedom of Belief Initiative's (NHC:IÖG) Monitoring Report on the Right to
Freedom of Religion or Belief in Turkey

Intensified security challenges

Safety from violence has long been a problem for many religious communities
(see Forum 18's Turkey religious freedom survey

Since 2015, continuing and increasing Daesh threats have specifically
targeted communities such as Alevis, Christians, and Jews. This includes
threats allegedly stemming from Daesh sent to the mobile phones of specific
individuals. In September 2015, the Association of Protestant Churches
called on the authorities to respond to about 100 death threats received by
pastors and others on mobile phones and social media. Two individuals are
being prosecuted in relation to these messages. Umut Sahin, General
Secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches, told Forum 18 on 7
October that some churches have been contacted by local prosecutors to
investigate these threats, and it appears that an investigation of them

On 16 March 2016 the General Directorate of Security warned the police that
Daesh members may have researched places where Jews and Christians may be
found, and that the Hizbullah/Ilim Islamist group may also launch attacks.
One reason the General Directorate gave was that these groups do not like
the distribution of New Testaments and other religious brochures and books.
Police were asked to contact and protect the places of worship of Jews,
Christians, and Shia Muslims, especially in the capital Ankara.

On the Christian Easter Sunday and Jewish Passover, churches and synagogues
in large cities were given visible police protection. But in the following
weeks police removed this visible protection from most places of worship.
Among the religious communities concerned there is uncertainty about how
long the Daesh and related threats may continue, and so how long police
protection is essential.

Recent incidents indicate that this threat continues. Police caught a
suspected Daesh terrorist and found on him photos of the Alevi cem house in
Gaziantep, in south-east Turkey, Dogan News Agency reported on 17
September. His interrogation revealed that he was part of a group planning
a bomb attack on the cem house. Police then took steps to protect the cem
house. The head of the Alevi Kultur Dernekleri (Alevi Culture
Associations), Yilmaz Demirdelen, said that they are facing a very serious
threat, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on 17 September. He added that a
police presence should continue until the threat is eliminated.

On the night of the 15 July coup attempt, unidentified attackers smashed
glass panels in the door of the Malatya Protestant Church, and in Trabzon
around 10 people smashed the windows of the Santa Maria Catholic Church.
Christians in both cities have previously suffered murders, with the 2006
Trabzon murder of Catholic priest Fr Andrea Santoro, and the 2007 murders
of three Protestant Christians in Malatya. Those who attacked both churches
in 2016 have not been found and prosecuted. To vulnerable communities
targeted by such attacks, this seems to indicate that those who hold a
grudge against them can take advantage of civic unrest to stage attacks,
knowing that their crimes are unlikely to be punished.

Despite sporadic visible police protection, the main burden of providing
security is left to religious or belief communities themselves. Many
vulnerable communities cannot afford to hire private security firms for an
indefinite length of time. Leaving religious communities themselves to
arrange their own security, if they can afford it, does not address the
seriousness and deep-rooted nature of the threats they face. Under Turkey's
binding legal international human rights obligations, the government itself
- not religious communities - has the duty to ensure that places of worship
are safe and that followers of all beliefs can meet together for worship
without being attacked.

Turkey's south-east

Fierce fighting and human rights violations have seriously increased in the
south-east of Turkey since the July 2015 end of a two-year ceasefire
between the government and Kurdish groups. Among many other victims of
human rights violations, religious communities have also suffered,
particularly in Diyarbakir's Sur area and in Mardin. Places of worship have
been damaged, and believers cannot meet for worship due to the fighting as
well as a curfew imposed from December 2015 until August 2016.

The Head of the government's regional Directorate of Foundations in
Diyarbakir, Metin Evsen, noted in a written 7 September statement that 11
religious sites were damaged in the Sur district of Diyarbakir. Those named
were: Ulu Mosque, Fatih Pasa Mosque, Fatih Pasa Mosque Shafii Section, Seyh
Muttahhar Mosque, Dort Ayakli Minaret, Armenian Catholic Church, Protestant
Church, Arap seyh Mosque, Kadi Mosque, Hasirli Mosque, and Nasuh Pasa

After the intense fighting in Sur district, which is a UNESCO protected
site, the government decreed on 25 March 2016 the "urgent expropriation" of
about 80 per cent of the district. These included places of worship such
as: Surp Giragos Armenian Church, the largest Armenian Church in the Middle
East; Surp Sarkis Chaldean Church; Armenian Catholic Church; Syriac Virgin
Mary Church; Armenian Protestant Church; and the Turkish Protestant Church.
Mosques in the Sur district are already owned by state entities, or are
under the management of the General Directorate of Foundations.

The summary expropriation gives the government broad discretion over what
it can do with the expropriated buildings. And as the expropriated churches
with other buildings belong to non-Muslim community foundations, they no
longer have the income from buildings to pay salaries of clergy or other
costs. A number of the foundations have applied to the courts for the
expropriation decision to be annulled, but the legal struggle looks likely
to be long and burdensome.

Despite the August 2016 lifting of the curfew, life in Sur has not yet
returned to normal. A Christian religious leader, who preferred to remain
anonymous, told Forum 18 on 6 October that his church has objected to the
expropriation decision, though churches have not yet been closed as a
result of the expropriation decision. However, due to the general security
situation the number of attendees has dropped from 250 a week to one or two
a week. He said that they have not asked the government to provide
security, as they do not want either the police to risk their lives
guarding the church building in the narrow streets of Sur, or to give the
impression to other groups that the church is dependent on the government.
The situation that this church finds itself in demonstrates well the
vulnerability of religious groups caught in complex conflicts.

After the August 2016 lifting of the curfew, the General Directorate of
Foundations has begun to repair places of worship under its management that
were damaged during the fighting in Sur. Those they listed where
restoration projects are underway are the Kursunlu Mosque, Armenian
Catholic Church and Armenian Protestant Church.

In 2004, then UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma
Jahangir stated that: "the human rights obligations of States are not
limited to abstaining from committing direct violations of the right to
freedom of religion or belief. Their obligations also consist in ensuring
the free exercise of freedom of religion or belief by protecting religious
minorities and enabling them to practice their faith in all security.
States also have an obligation to bring the perpetrators of acts of
violence or of other acts of religious intolerance to justice and to
promote a culture of religious tolerance" (E/CN.4/2005/61 -

Turkey has yet to implement these obligations in south-east Turkey - and
indeed in other parts of the country.

What needs to be done?

Human rights violations associated with the coup attempt and the state
response to it, as well as the fighting in south-east Turkey, have
seriously jeopardised the security of the state and wider society. Amid
this wider insecurity, the physical security of followers of religions and
beliefs, their communities, and their places of worship is seriously at
risk by threats to and attacks against religious communities from Daesh and
other sources (including mobs), as well as murders of and violence against
people from vulnerable religious groups.

To effectively remedy these threats to freedom and security, including the
security of followers of religions and beliefs and their communities, an
immediate return to pre-coup attempt legal normality, combined with
comprehensive democratic reforms appears essential. International human
rights obligations require that these democratic reforms address Turkey's
fundamental freedom challenges, including those affecting the rule of law
and the freedoms of religion and belief, assembly, association, and
expression. These obligations also require immediate measures to be taken
to ensure the security of religious or belief communities and their
followers currently directly affected by conflict and terror, or threats of

The government is already developing post-coup policies which may affect
how freedom of religion and belief and other fundamental freedom
obligations are implemented. It is very important that, as these policies
are developed and implemented, policy makers engage with the full range of
groups in Turkey's diverse society and implement an inclusive and
participatory process firmly based on Turkey's international human rights
obligations. If this is done, much in Turkey's democracy and respect for
human rights can be improved. (END)

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee: Turkey Freedom of Belief Initiative's
(NHC:IÖG) July 2014 - June 2015 monitoring report is at

For more background, see Forum 18's Turkey religious freedom survey at

More analyses and commentaries on freedom of thought, conscience and belief
in Turkey can be found at

A compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments can be found at

A printer-friendly map of Turkey is available at

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