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Turkey: “Christians’ appeal, no revenges. It’s time to show restraint

The purges in Turkey after the failed coup. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reaction against the alleged followers of the preacher Fethullah Gulen - once Erdogan’s trusted ally and now considered the mastermind of the coup - was extremely harsh. Tensions in the Country are running high. What are the conditions of 100 thousand Christians – including 30 thousand Catholics – in Turkey, in these days of high tension and violence? An outline of the situation by the Latin archbishop of Izmir (Smyrna), Dominican Fr Lorenzo Piretto, and the Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul, Rubén Tierrablanca Gonzalez

It’s the time of purges in Turkey, after the failed coup, attempted a few days ago. The harsh response of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against anyone considered an accomplice of billionaire preacher Fethullah Gulen, once his trusted ally, and today deemed to be the mastermind of the coup, was not long in coming. Tensions are running high in the Country of the Crescent Moon, as confirmed by figures. Over 6000 soldiers were arrested. Eight thousand including police officers and employees attached to the Interior Ministry were fired along with 30 governors. 2,800 judges were dismissed; more than 15,200 employees and Ministry of Education staff were suspended with immediate effect; 1,577 including University deans and rectors were dismissed by the Council for High Education (Yok), the body that supervises Turkish universities. Among these, 1,176 served in public universities and the rest in university foundations. Teaching license revoked also to 21 thousand teachers of private schools

The crackdown was exerted also on Radio and TV networks, including 25 radio and TV stations, deemed supporters of Gulen. 370 people in state-run broadcaster TRT were suspended. Nor did the President’s purges spare religious leaders. The Presidency for Religious Affairs – Diyanet – the highest Islamic authority in the Country, which is an official institution of the State, removed 492 staff including Imams and religion teachers for suspected alleged links with Gulen. Dyanet made also known that Islamic religious funerals for the dead putschists will be denied. In the meantime, the Country is considering reinstating death penalty. In response, the EU and the United Nations warned the Country that if enforced it would constitute a violation of Turkey’s obligations enshrined in human rights international law.

What are the conditions of 100 thousand Christians, including 30 thousand Catholics, in Turkey, in these days of tension and violence?

Appeal to moderation. “We are serene – replied the Latin archbishop of Izmir (Smyrna), Monsignor Lorenzo Piretto – but we’re also nervous about the future developments of the situation in the Country. We are following the outcome of events amidst many hanging questions.”

 

The vast majority of Turkey’s Christian population are foreigners living in the Country. Native Turkish Christians are but a small minority. To them should be added the Syrian and Iraqi refugees who fled from armed conflicts. Yet this is one of the lands, Smyrna in particular, where the Gospel was first preached. The seven churches to which the letters that open the Book of Revelation are addressed all belong to the Anatolian peninsula. The first seven ecumenical Councils were held here. Antioch was the place where, for the first time, the followers of Jesus were called “Christians.”

 

“It’s not up to us to decrypt or interpret the ongoing events – the archbishop said –

 

we hope and we pray that tensions will subside, that Government leadership will show restraint. Turkey doesn’t need further tensions, or – worse still – disproportionate retaliation.

We look forward to a climate of peace and reconciliation.” These words are all the more significant when considering the attacks – perpetrated during the night of the coup – against the Protestant church in Malatya, the scene of the massacre of three Christians in 2007, and against St. Mary’s church in Trabzon, where Roman Catholic priest Andrea Santoro was killed in 2006. Controls and police officers on guard outside churches during religious celebrations are not enough to reassure the faithful.

“Hard times”. “These are times that are hard to understand” here in Istanbul, affirmed the apostolic vicar, Monsignor Rubén Tierrablanca Gonzalez. “We are disoriented. People are shaken by the present tension. Living in this climate triggers acts of violence. In similar situations, some people feel legitimised to damage churches like the one of don Andrea Santoro in Trabzon and in Malatya”, he said.

 

“As religious leaders we have condemned the violence and made appeals to moderation”

“People are afraid. It is clearly perceivable when walking around Istanbul”, added the Franciscan father. “It’s not the city it once was. Life has not gone back to normal, and it will take a long time before it does.” In this situation of “uncertainty and confusion”, concluded the vicar,

“as members of the Church we are called to put dialogue, closeness, fraternity and reconciliation into our daily life. It’s the best contribution we can give to Turkey.”

 

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