Christians targeted in Turkish coup

by Gregory Tomlin, |
The Ankara police headquarters is seen through a car's broken window caused by fighting during a coup attempt in Ankara, Turkey, July 19, 2016. | REUTERS/Baz Ratner

ISTANBUL (Christian Examiner) – During the recent coup in Turkey that claimed nearly 250 lives and injured thousands, Christians once again became the target of Muslim extremists bent on the Islamization of the secular country.

During the unrest, a storefront church in Matalya, the Matalya Protestant Church, suffered damage when protesters shouting "Allahu Akbar" – or "God is great," the battle cry associated with radical Islam – smashed its windows during protests there.

The church's pastor, Tim Stone, said the attack was "light" but it was clear the church was targeted because it was Christian.

"It was the only shopfront attack in those three days," Stone said. "We were the only targets."

The reality is that Turkey is neither a democracy nor a secular republic. There is no division between government affairs and religious affairs.

Matalya was the location in which three employees of a Christian publishing house were tortured for hours and murdered by five Islamic radicals in April 2007.

In the Black Sea coastal town of Trabzon, around a dozen attackers also struck the Santa Maria Catholic Church. They used bricks to break the church's windows and then tried to enter the church.

According to Middle East Concern, Muslim neighbors rushed to the site and forced the attackers to leave. They then contacted the priest at the church to come and assess the damage.

Santa Maria was also the site of past persecution. Father Andrea Santoro, 61, was shot to death as he knelt in prayer there in February 2006 by a 16-year-old Muslim radical. The attacker shouted "Allahu Akbar" before he killed the priest.

The UK's Express reports that Turkey, once home to two million Christians, now has only 120,000 (or 0.2 percent of the population). That's fewer than in Shiite Iran.

The sharp decline would put the collapse of Christianity there on par with the decline in Iraq, which has been plagued by violence directed at Christians since even before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In fact, Turkey now has almost as many Muslim Imams (117,000) as Christians and they are salaried by the government.

"The reality is that Turkey is neither a democracy nor a secular republic," Yuce Kabakci, a pastor in Istanbul, told the Express. "There is no division between government affairs and religious affairs."

Kabakci said the minister in charge of the government's religious affairs bureau is appointed directly by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president has expressed Islamist tendencies and has frequently pushed efforts toward a resurgence of Islamic dominance over the once secular state.

"There's no doubt that the government uses the mosques to get its message across to its grassroots supporters," Kabakci said. "There is an atmosphere in Turkey right not that anyone who isn't Sunni is a threat to the stability of the nation."

Kabakci also said the educated classes have now been indoctrinated to not associate with Christians or Jews.

"It's more than suspicion," he said. "it's a case of 'let's get rid of anyone who isn't Sunni."

Ihsan Ozbek, who serves as chairman of the Association of Protestant Churches, agreed. He said things improved as Turks debated the idea of a pivot to the West by joining the European Union in 2008. It remains unlikely that it will ever do so, some observers say.

Without the incentive of the EU, intolerance is on the rise, Ozbek said.

"Erdogan thinks he is the father of the nation. As a father he thinks he is protecting his children by being firm with them," Ozbek said.

The incidents of violence during the coup were the only ones Christians suffered in Turkey recently. Earlier this year, a suicide bomber killed at least five people during an attack on a Christian village.