Friday, 21 December 2007


Why Christians feel under threat in today's Turkey

AFPTHIS has been a bad year for Orhan Ant. As a Protestant missionary
in Samsun, on the Black Sea, he has had death threats and his church
has been repeatedly stoned. Local newspapers called him a foreign
agent. A group of youths tried to kidnap him as he was driving home.

His pleas for police protection have gone unheeded.

Mr Ant is not alone. All over Turkey, Christians are under attack. In
January Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian newspaper editor, was shot dead
in Istanbul by a teenager who said he had "insulted Turkishness". In
April two Turks and a German, all evangelists, were murdered in
Malatya. Their killers bound and tortured them before slitting their
throats. In December an Italian Catholic priest was knifed by a
teenager in Izmir. Another Italian priest was shot dead in Trabzon
in 2006.

Many blame the attacks on a new ultra-nationalism, tinged with Islamic
militancy, that has swept across Turkey. Unemployed teenagers in the
Black Sea region seem especially prone to it. "The plight of Christians
is critical," says Husnu Ondul, president of the Ankara-based Turkish
Human Rights Association. Like many others, he believes that the "deep
state", comprising a few judges, army officers and security officials
who need enemies to justify their grip on power, is behind the attacks.

That may seem far-fetched. Yet evidence leaked to the media in the
Dink and Malatya cases points to collusion between the perpetrators
and rogue elements in the police and the army. It also suggests that
the Istanbul police were tipped off about Mr Dink's murder a year
before it was carried out. "So why did the Istanbul police do nothing
to prevent it?" wonders Ergin Cinmen, a lawyer for the Dink family.

Respecting the religious freedom of non-Muslims is essential to
Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union. Laws against Christians
repairing their churches have been relaxed. Overriding objections
from pious constituents, the ruling Justice and Development (AK)
party has just restored an ancient Armenian church in eastern Turkey. {!!}

School textbooks are being purged of an anti-Western bias.

Yet many Christian grievances remain. The prime minister, Recep
Tayyip Erdogan, resists calls to reopen the Greek Orthodox Halki
seminary on Heybeli island off Istanbul, shut down in 1971. Turkey
refuses to recognise the ecumenical title of the Greek Orthodox
patriarch, Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of over 200m Orthodox
Christians. The patriarch, a loyal Turkish citizen, has lobbied hard
for Turkey's EU membership. But this has only reinforced suspicions
among ultra-nationalist detractors, who accuse him of trying to
"Christianise" Turkey and wanting a Vatican-style state in the heart
of Istanbul.

Never mind that the Greek Orthodox church in Istanbul has dwindled
to 4,000 souls, many of them too old to follow their children abroad.

Nor that the patriarch must under Turkish law be a Turkish citizen, a
rule which is making it difficult to find a successor to Bartholomew
I. "They [ie, the Turks] apparently won't regard the conquest of
Constantinople as complete until the patriarchate ceases to exist and
all Christians have been frightened away," suggests one restorer of
icons in Istanbul.

The government has yet to approve a draft bill to help non-Muslims
recover thousands of properties that have been confiscated by the state
and either sold or left to decay. The Aya Yorgi church in Istanbul's
Edirnekapi district, which was badly damaged in an earthquake, is one
sad example. Its walls are cracked, its roof is leaking; a marble angel
lies in pieces on the floor. "All we ask is to be permitted to rescue
our church, but we cannot hammer a single nail," complains Bishop
Dionysios, a Greek Orthodox prelate who still conducts services there.

Many Christians concede that AK has treated them better than its
secular predecessors did. They blame the deep state for their recent
troubles. But the excuse of the deep state's power is wearing thin
after AK's big victory in July's general election. "With such a strong
mandate, the government's failure to meet our demands can only mean
one thing, that the deep state is still in charge," says a Christian
priest. Or perhaps that AK believes in religious freedom for Muslims,
but not Christians.

Thursday, 6 December 2007


By Harut Sassounian - Publisher, The California Courier

The National Herald, a Greek-American weekly, published a lengthy interview with this writer last week on the issue of genocide recognition. This column was prompted by the ideas expressed in that interview.
The Armenian Cause is not about genocide recognition, but the pursuit of justice which entails that the Armenian victims receive reparations.
Remembering the Genocide is also about keeping the hope and dream alive for succeeding generations of Armenians -- that some day, they will regain their historic lands.

Armenians need to rethink their approach to the pursuit of their cause and present their demands in a more effective manner. The House of Representatives has already adopted an Armenian Genocide resolution twice in 1975 and 1984. Pres. Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation in 1981 that refers to the Armenian Genocide. More than 20 countries, the European Parliament, a U.N. human rights panel and many genocide and Holocaust scholars have acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. Therefore, continuing attempts to seek genocide recognition from the international community is no longer necessary and distracts from the pursuit of more significant Armenian political objectives.
Armenians have been saying for decades that they have three demands: “Recognition” of the genocide, “Reparations” for losses, and “Return” of their territories -- in that sequence. They have repeated these three R’s so often that even Turkey’s leaders, who closely monitor Armenian statements, have learned them by heart.
Consequently, Armenians and Turks now have the same distorted view of what the Armenian Cause is all about. Both sides mistakenly believe that once the Genocide is recognised by Turks and others, Armenians will proceed to make demands for reparations and lands. This is the main reason why Turks so adamantly refuse to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. They fear that acceptance of the Genocide would obligate them to pay reparations and return the usurped Armenian lands. And knowing well the sequence of the three R’s, Turks cleverly refuse to acknowledge the Genocide -- the first demand -- thus preempting the remaining two Armenian demands.
Armenians should not fall in the Turkish trap of getting stuck on demand number one. Since genocide recognition has already been accomplished, they should immediately proceed to the second and third demands. There is no prerequisite that the Turks -- or the U.S. or anybody else, for that matter -- first acknowledge the Genocide before Armenians can take legal action. Armenians should present their demands to appropriate national and international courts, regardless of whether the Turks recognise the Genocide.
Is justice served when someone murders your family, and the criminal’s descendants who still live on your property simply admit 100 years later that such a crime actually occurred? Would you just thank the murderer’s descendants for acknowledging the crime or would you press to get your family’s stolen property back?
The acknowledgement of the Genocide by Turks or others is not an occasion for Armenians to jump for joy. Genocide is an undeniable fact. Armenians know it happened. The civilised world knows it happened. Many Turks also know it happened. The acknowledgement of a historical fact cannot be viewed as a demand. Justice requires that the criminal be punished, reparations paid, and the ill-gotten fruits gained through genocide returned to their rightful owners.
Obviously, the Turks are not going to voluntarily return the Armenian lands even though Armenians have a just claim to those territories. Nobody gives an inch of land to anyone unless forced to do so. So how does such a claim become reality? It can be done by keeping the hope and dream alive and passing them on to the next generation, the way the Jews did by proclaiming "Next year in Jerusalem" for two thousand years. The just demand for the recovery of their historic lands can disappear once Armenians lose all hope and unilaterally give up their dream.
There is no country in recorded history whose borders have remained unchanged. Mighty empires have come and gone. Likewise, the Republic of Turkey will not have the same borders forever. No one knows what can happen in the next 30 years or 300 years, but if Armenians relinquish their claims now, they would have lost the chance of recovering anything forever. Armenians must continue to remind their offspring for generations to come that those lands which were unjustly stolen from them will eventually return to their rightful owners.
Rather than demanding genocide recognition, Armenians should seek justice