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Are Turkey’s Christians really as ‘fine’ as they say?

This important article confirms the accuracy of the statement issued on August 4 by Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, Archon Aktouarios, which said in part: “In light of them and other aspects of the plight of religious minorities in Turkey, it is clear that Erdogan is acting as a dictator, going to religious minorities asking them to sign a paper that belies reality when they are in no position to refuse, for fear that their situation will deteriorate even more.”

Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian lawmaker for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), states here that “the issuance of such a declaration was ‘in itself a proof that we are not free.'”

Indeed. Once again the Order of Saint Andrew reiterates our hope that journalists worldwide will investigate and shed light upon the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of all Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey, and that the Turkish government will heed the repeated calls to grant full religious freedom to its embattled Christian minority.

“Are Turkey’s Christians as ‘fine’ as they say?,” by Fehim Tastekin, Al-Monitor, August 10, 2018:

As tensions simmered between Ankara and Washington over detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, the leaders of Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities issued a joint statement July 31 to deny that they faced any oppression in the country. The timing of the move was rather remarkable, and for Garo Paylan, an ethnic Armenian lawmaker for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the issuance of such a declaration was “in itself a proof that we are not free.”

The 18 Christian and Jewish community leaders who signed the declaration asserted that they practiced their faiths freely, that “statements alleging and/or alluding to oppression are completely untrue” and that “many grievances experienced in the past have been resolved.”

Leading the signatory list was Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, whose community has been waiting for 47 years now to have its theological school reopened, followed by Archbishop Aram Atesyan, the acting spiritual head of the Armenian community, which is unable to elect its own patriarch because of government interference. Fourth on the list was Yusuf Cetin, the acting patriarch of the Syriac community, which has seen many of its church properties seized by the state, while most other signatories represented foundations crippled by red tape.

What led minority leaders to issue such a statement at a time when their misgivings are known to be on the rise?

Tuma Celik, a Syriac community leader who became an HDP deputy in the June elections, told Al-Monitor that church and foundation leaders were asked to make the statement to counter the negative reverberations of Brunson’s detention. The request came from the Turkish state via a channel within the non-Muslim minorities. As community representatives discussed the request a day after it was communicated, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin invited them to a meeting scheduled for two days later. The leaders could not bring themselves to go to the meeting without fulfilling the request and issued the statement. The meeting with Kalin took place in Istanbul the following day.

Celik, who is privy to the discussions among community leaders, said the declaration was issued out of apprehension that failing to do so would cause them trouble with the government. He noted that there was no direct order from Ankara and that “one of our own” voiced the request. “The state has always had arms within [the minorities],” he said. “Some people are more statist than the state itself.”

According to Celik, Kalin’s invitation cornered the leaders. “They feared they would be held to account if they went to the meeting without having issued the statement,” he said. “And releasing it after the meeting, they thought, would create the impression they were acting under pressure.”

Celik grumbled that “the minorities are being used against the West, while at home they are seen as an outpost of the West rather than citizens.”

According to the lawmaker, the declaration was aimed at the international public amid the escalating row over the pastor’s detention. “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly took advantage of the declaration even before the ink on it was dry,” he said.

Celik was referring to Erdogan’s remarks on Aug. 1, in which he slammed Washington’s hardening stance against Ankara, which culminated in sanctions later in the day. “The statement issued by Turkey’s religious minorities yesterday is very meaningful. Turkey has no problem with religious minorities,” Erdogan said. “The threatening tone of the evangelist and Zionist mindsets in the United States is unacceptable.”…

In sum, the government is making life tougher in many aspects for non-Muslim minorities, while generously smoothing the way for Islamic entities. To stay clear of trouble, minority members — a handful of remnants — feel compelled to assert they are “fine,” but they are not.

Read the whole article here. It includes details of the latest examples of the Turkish government’s persecution of its Christians.

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