Compass Turkey s Protestant Christian minorities experienced fresh harassment this past week from both security police and the judiciary, along with an attempt by vandals to set on fire one local church. Last Sunday (November 27), members of the Agape House congregation in Samsun , a city along the Black Sea coast, were disquieted by a large, white minibus parked in front of their church as they came to morning worship services.
Church members suspected someone behind the vans darkly tinted windows was using a video camera to film everyone entering the church. The apparent filming continued after the service concluded, when church leaders checked the vans license plate and confirmed it was registered to security police headquarters. Pastor Orhan Picaklar promptly called the police and demanded an explanation.
Two police officers soon arrived on the scene, one in uniform and the other a security official. Apologizing and urging the pastor to cool down, the officers promised to remove the van immediately.
Under what law are you doing this? Picaklar asked them. Why are you taking these recordings? By chance are you trying to harass us?
Despite police promises, the van remained parked in front of the church building until 6 p.m., when some of its occupants, who were frequenting a nearby coffee shop, returned and drove off.
Located in the citys Atakum district, Samsun s Agape House has just become the third Protestant church granted formal association status by the Turkish authorities. A year ago the mayor had vowed he would never allow the congregation, now numbering 35, to open a church there.
On the judicial level, earlier this week in the Aegean coastal town of Selcuk , the local prosecutors office summoned two members of the Ephesus Protestant Church to answer accusations filed against them.
The prosecutor summoned church elder Kamil Moussa in writing on Monday (November 28) to make a formal statement. Moussa was asked to respond to charges apparently filed with a prosecutor in Tarsus , 550 miles across the country from Selcuk, just south of Izmir .
The Selcuk prosecutor informed Moussa that he had been accused of threatening a former student who attended the churchs Tyrannus Bible School from 2000-2002. The prosecutor declined to explain how or when the alleged threats took place, simply stating that a man named Ilker Cinar, now living in Tarsus , had registered a complaint against him.
Cinar grabbed sensational coverage in the Turkish media last January when he went on national television to renounce his conversion to Christianity and return to Islam. Announcing his intentions to expose subversive Christian missionary activities in Turkey, the 35-year-old Turk has since published two books and granted multiple interviews, all making extravagant claims regarding the extent and political motivation of Christian activities in Turkey.
When Moussa flatly denied having ever threatened Cinar, the prosecutor then interrogated Moussa about his Christian activities. The prosecutor refused to give Moussa copies of his written summons, Cinars charges or the statement the pastor gave in his office.
Two days later, on November 30, church secretary Gulsum Mezde received a summons from a second Selcuk prosecutor, informing her that she had been accused by a young Turkish man named Adnan Muradiye of threatening him if he did not convert to Christianity.
This young man, whom I have never met, said that I am a woman about 40 years of age who made some threats against him, Mezde told Compass. It is obvious he never met me as he claimed, since I am 55 years old!
According to Mezde, an individual bearing the name of Adnan Muradiye had sent an e-mail message to the churchs website on October 26, completing the request form to have a free New Testament mailed to him in Izmir .
I sent him two email messages over the internet about that, she said. But he never came to our street address listed on the website, and he has never attended any of our church activities.
After local security police detailed the allegations against her, Mezde decided to record her formal statement with them instead of the prosecutor.
This is a completely concocted scenario, she declared in her November 30 statement, in which she described the accusations as slander in violation of her legal rights.
We have experienced this pattern before, when it appears that the authorities are getting people to make false accusations against us, Moussa said. It is annoying, but it also can be more serious than it looks on the surface. Unfortunately, some of them have the backing of ultranationalists and Islamists who have influence.
Meanwhile, in the resort city of Antalya along the Mediterranean coast, unknown vandals tried to set afire three windows of the St. Paul Cultural Center in the early morning hours of November 28.
According to the Rev. James Bultema, an American pastoring the English-speaking congregation at the facility, a neighbor woman across the narrow alley heard flames crackling outside her window at 1:40 a.m. Calling the fire department, she quickly woke up her husband and son, who with a water hose and buckets managed to douse the flames before firemen arrived 20 minutes later.
If they hadnt gone right to work, much more damage would have been done, Bultema said, noting that the building has wooden ceilings. As it was, about $1,100 damage was done.
Bultema said the arson attempt appeared to be an amateur job by the assailants, who from the street could only access the three ground-floor windows of Pauls Place, the centers coffee shop. Three windows were set afire, but only one was really burning, he said.
Opened initially as a coffee house and prayer chapel in 1999, St. Paul Cultural Center was the first new Christian congregation in Turkey to gain government recognition as an official association in August 2004. Both English- and Turkish-language congregations use the office facilities and garden, worshiping in the second-floor sanctuary.
This week the European Union stepped up its criticism of Turkey s reform efforts to meet its membership criteria, with EU enlargement commissioner Ollie Rehn citing religious freedom as one of six fundamental freedoms among the significant shortcomings that the country must address without delay.
In an interview published shortly afterwards in the Financial Times, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul acknowledged the difficulty of spreading the spirit of reform throughout the countrys judicial system.