RLPB 460. Turkey: Christian Vulnerability Escalates Yet Again
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
On Sunday 24 June Turkish citizens at home and abroad will vote to elect both a president and a parliament. Originally scheduled for 3 November, rumour has it that the polls were brought forward so voting could take place before the looming economic crisis takes hold. Concerning the parliamentary elections: Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has entered an alliance with the Islamo-fascist, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP); together they expect to win a majority. Furthermore, with MHP support, Erdogan is confident he will win the presidential race in the first round. That said, a look at the opinion polls reveals a very tight race. Indeed, on 13 June neither Erdogan nor the AKP-MHP coalition had a majority.
Erdogan aspires to be a great Islamic leader, reminiscent of an Ottoman Sultan or Caliph. For Erdogan and his supporters, losing power is unthinkable. It is already being mooted that if Erdogan wins the presidency (as is anticipated) but the AKP-MHP fails to secure a majority in parliament, then Erdogan may simply demand fresh parliamentary polls. One academic recently stated on air that if Erdogan or the AKP loses power, then Turks will ‘take to the streets in the name of Allah’, adding that he had a weapons cache buried in Istanbul’s Belgrad Forest ready for such a time. Criticised for threatening civil war, the academic backed down, saying the only thing he actually had buried in the forest was his ‘anger’ [over the July 2016 coup attempt]. His back-flip has done nothing to ease people’s fears that an Erdogan or AKP loss would be countered with violence.
For insight into Erdogan’s ambition, one only needs to consider his actions in northern Syria. Afrin, in Aleppo Governorate, fell to Turkish forces on 18 March. Hundreds of civilians were killed in what has been described as some of the worst fighting of the war [see RLPB 447 (20 March)]. Since then, Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army allies have ethnically cleansed Afrin of over 200,000 Sunni Muslim Kurds, about 35,000 Yezidi Kurds and some 3,000 Christians (Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians). Erdogan has repopulated Afrin with Syrian Arabs, including tens of thousands of jihadists and their families, many of whom were recently evacuated from Eastern Ghouta (the former al-Qaeda stronghold, east of Damascus). Indeed, on 20 April Al-Monitor commented that the areas of northern Syria under Turkish control ‘have become jihadi reserves’. Afrin’s Church of the Good Shepherd has been looted, desecrated and occupied by jihadists. Sharia law is being enforced. [Full on-the-ground report by Free Burma Rangers (13 June).]
For insight into the threat Erdogan poses to ethnic-religious minorities, one only needs to consider his words. On 2 June 2016 the German parliament passed a resolution to recognise the Armenian Genocide. Erdogan responded by blasting the German MPs as ‘the long arm of the separatist terrorists in this country [Turkey] in Germany’. In referring to Turkey’s Armenians as ‘separatist terrorists’, Erdogan was resurrecting the anti-Armenian propaganda of the Young Turk movement — propaganda used to fuel and enable the Armenian Genocide of 1915 [see Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), 24 April 2018.] On Friday 8 June 2018 the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced his government’s decision to close seven foreign-funded mosques: six belonging to the Arab Religious Community which were said to be promoting hardline Salafi/Wahhabi Islam as well as a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in the capital, Vienna, said to be linked to the MHP’s fascist youth wing, the Grey Wolves. The Turkish mosque is funded by Cologne-based ATIB, a branch of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs. The move could result in the deportation of up to 60 ATIB imams. Erdogan responded by warning Chancellor Kurz that his ‘amateurish attitude’ would cost him a lot, and ominously raising the spectre of a war between ‘the cross and the crescent’ for which Kurz would be responsible. [For more detail see RLM, 20 June 2018.]
Whilst Sultan Erdogan might dream of breaching the ‘Gates of Vienna’ and leading a jihad or an anti-Christian Islamic intifada in Europe, the Christians most vulnerable to Islamo-Turkish retaliation are in reality those at hand: i.e. Turkey’s own Christians. In recent years government-sponsored anti-Christian and anti-ethnic- religious minority hate speech has escalated to extreme levels. It is not only pervasive in the media, but also in the school curriculum. Turkey is a tinderbox! Its Christians are exceedingly vulnerable! Unfinished business ever looms. Consequently, we must remain vigilant and ever prayerful.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:
* sustain, preserve and richly bless his precious Church in Turkey comprising (among others) remnant Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians as well as convert Kurds and Turks; may the Church grow in unity, faith and grace to be a light that overcomes darkness and a voice of hope that counters despair. ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Promise of Jesus, Matthew 16:18 ESV).
* intervene in Turkey to produce awakening and effect change beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). May every evil scheme of the devil and wicked plot of ‘man’ be foiled; and may the Lord our God preserve and strengthen those who would ‘turn back the battle at the gate’ (from Isaiah 28:5-6).
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
CHRISTIAN VULNERABLITY ESCALATES AGAIN IN TURKEY
On Sunday 24 June Turkish citizens at home and abroad will vote to elect a president and a parliament. There is every sign that these elections will bring neither stability to the nation nor security to Turkey’s persecuted ethnic-religious minorities. In recent years, government-sanctioned anti-Christian and anti-ethnic-religious minority hate speech has soared to extreme levels. Erdogan has even referred to Turkish Armenians as ‘terrorist separatists’, thereby resurrecting the anti-Armenian, anti-Christian propaganda that fuelled the Armenian Genocide of 1915. A week ago he ominously warned that Austria shutting foreign-funded hardline mosques in Vienna could trigger a war between ‘cross and crescent’ for which Austria’s Chancellor Kruz would (supposedly) be responsible. Turkey is a tinderbox. Its Christians are exceedingly vulnerable. Unfinished business ever looms. Consequently, we must remain vigilant and ever prayerful.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).