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Who Massacred Turkey’s Missionaries?

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News, with readers' comments] Turkey’s controversial Ergenekon case, which is about the crimes of the state and the schemes for a military coup, has become more controversial lately. The arrest of two journalists, who are apparently accused of “supporting Ergenekon with propaganda,” seemed unacceptable to many, including me. But such excesses of the case should not blind us to the real crimes and criminals that it tries to unearth. On the latter front, the case in fact took an important step in the past 10 days: It focused on the anti-Christian hate campaign and the horrendous massacre of three Protestant missionaries in the eastern city of Malatya in 2007. First, let me give you some background. If I ask the question, “Who would hate Christians to death in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country?” many non-Turks would probably say, “Well, probably the Islamic pious.” But that would be the wrong answer. For sure, the Islamic camp in Turkey has its own biases against Christians, and especially the missionaries who want to convert Muslims. But the most fanatic camp on this matter has rather been the Turkish nationalists, some of whom are quite secular and even atheist. The reason for that apparent paradox is the religious nature of “Turkishness” – its most definitive component is Muslimness, even if the latter is purely nominal. Consequently, in the eyes of the nationalists, Turks can freely become atheists, agnostics or deists — but they just cannot be allowed to become followers of Christ. That should explain you why Turkey’s infamous National Security Council, the institution by which Turkey’s powerful generals used to dictate to elected governments, defined “missionary activity” as a “threat to national security” in 2001. The hyper-secular generals who made that insane definition were by no means fans of Islam. But they had even less tolerance for Christianity. And their definitions had consequences. “The gendarme intelligence focused on monitoring all missionary groups and churches,” says my friend Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer, a human rights defender and an advocate of religious freedom. (This bizarre institution called gendarme — which Turkey, like many other nonsense, adopted form France — is the all-encompassing arm of the Turkish military over Turkish society.) Then, in 2006, a new stage began. “More than a dozen ultra-nationalist ‘civil society’ institutions were formed,” Cengiz says, “which all had retired officers in their ranks and which had very close links with the gendarme.” An exemplary one was the National Forces Society, which took oaths on the “purity of the Turkish blood.” All these groups were fiercely anti-AKP, anti-European and ferociously anti-Christian. For them, the AKP government was “selling” the country to “imperialists” — for the AKP’s Islamic cadres lacked the “pure blood,” and the lunatic nationalism, of the hardcore Kemalists. An interesting center for these fascist groups was the Turkish Orthodox Church, which the Turkish Republic created in 1922 as a counter-force against the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the real beacon of the Orthodox Christian faith. (I visited that “church” once; its courtyard had huge posters of Atatürk, and simply nothing that reminded of Jesus Christ.) In the same year, 2006, the gendarme was also carrying out a spy game against the Christians. A gendarme captain with the initials D. U. (who later became an informant in the Ergenekon case), joined the Protestant community and played his role of a born-again Christian so well that he ultimately became a pastor. (Documents would reveal later that the man was still on the payroll of the gendarmes while singing his Hallelujah.) Then, suddenly in 2007, the spy-pastor had another “aha” moment and reverted to his original Muslim faith — only to come out and expose “the evil plans of the missionaries against the Turkish nation.” A madly anti-Christian theologian, Zekeriya Beyaz, who is also a great fan of the Turkish military, accompanied this Mr. D. U. on various TV channels, to help boost further paranoia about the missionaries. This is the same Dr. Beyaz whose house was searched by the police last week, as a part of the Ergenekon investigation. As a result of all that hate mongering, three ultra-nationalist youngsters attacked a Christian publisher in Malatya on April 18, 2007. They first tortured and then slaughtered three missionaries, whose only “crime” was to evangelize their faith. But the young killers had rather been made to believe “the missionaries will invade our country, rape our sisters and kill our children.” Now, the Ergenekon prosecutors are looking at the behind-the-scenes of this monstrosity. The spy-turned-pastor-turned-informant told the prosecutors that the “Malatya operation” was mastered in the gendarme headquarters in that city. He just added that while the young murderers were ordered to “scare” the missionaries, they had gone all the way to butcher them. So, this is just one of the many evil episodes in Turkey’s near history. And we still need cases such as Ergenekon to discover the demons behind them.
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