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Compass Direct (04/13/06) – Denied a work permit for being a “threat for the national security,” a German Christian believes that his family’s openly Christian activities prompted Turkey to label them missionaries and deny them entrance in February.

Alex Eisele, his wife, Jutta, and their two children, Sarah and Joshua, were refused entry into Turkey on February 4 after making a routine trip to northern Cyprus to renew their three-month tourist visas.

At the Adana airport en route to northern Cyprus on February 3, police Superintendent Ali Uzun warned the Eiseles that they would not be allowed to return to Turkey . On the return trip the next day, Turkish border police made good on the promise, issuing the German family documents stating that they were “inadmissible.”

The order cited law No. 5682, article 8, which gives Turkey the right to refuse entry for a number of reasons, including prostitution, insanity, infectious disease, previous deportation or a desire to destroy the “security and general order of the Republic of Turkey .”

For Eisele, the reasoning echoed that of an Ankara court that had rejected his application for a work visa a year before because he was a “threat for the national security.”

The Passion

The German family had not always lived in Turkey on three-month tourist visas. In 2002, following a year of language study in Istanbul , Eisele, 35, had moved his family to the city of Adiyaman in southeastern Turkey , where he opened a foreign language consulting company and taught English on a work visa.

But two years later, without specifying any reason, the Ministry of Work and Social Security refused to renew Eisele’s work permit. The July 2004 letter indicated that a copy of the decision had also been sent to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Turkey ’s secret police.

Ankara ’s 8th Administrative Court upheld the decision, citing a law that a foreigner can be refused permission to work if he “forms a threat for the national security, public order, general security, public interest, general ethics and general health.”

“Of course I have an idea why my work permit was not extended,” Eisele wrote in his August 2004 appeal. “In Adiyaman I spend my spare time with Christians, organizing a foreign [music] group’s concert and advertising for Mel Gibson’s movie ‘The Passion.’ Of course some state institutions in Adiyaman didn’t like this.”

Eisele’s appeal case dragged on into April 2005, at which point the court added a letter from the Adiyaman Security Directorate to its evidence, and the proceedings became classified.

“It was so secret that they even denied me the right to know what was written in that letter,” Eisele told Compass. “Neither the judge nor the director of the court in Ankara wanted to speak to me on the phone.”

One of only two foreign families living in the city of Adiyaman , the Eiseles told Compass there was only one possible reason why the government could view them as a security threat.

“From the very beginning I wasn’t hiding the fact that I was a Christian who stands for his convictions and will make no secret about that to anybody that wants to know about my faith,” Eisele told Compass. “Also, I met regularly with Turkish Christians.”

The German family said that they were often singled out for their Christian activities, even receiving several threatening text messages on their cell phones. In May 2005, when Eisele helped arrange a Finnish Christian rock group’s concert in Adiyaman, national daily Vakit headlined an article, “Adiyaman Concert in the Shadow of Missionary Activity” and named Eisele as the concert coordinator.

The Germans also told Compass they were sure that their telephones were tapped. Once when a policeman asked Eisele how his parents were doing, he responded, “You would know better than I anyhow, since you’re monitoring my telephone and email.” The policeman merely grinned in response.

Code 56

Suspicions that he was being refused a work permit because of his Christian activities were confirmed for Eisele on a May 2005 trip to Syria to renew his tourist visa.

After entering Eisele’s passport information into their computer database, two border police read an electronic notice that appeared on their screen. He heard them commenting to each other on a certain “code 56.” “Code 56, isn’t that missionary activity?” one of the policemen asked the other, Eisele said.

“Are you involved in missionary activity?” one border guard then asked Eisele.

Eisele said the two policemen told him that the electronic notice stated that his residence permit would not be renewed, but they did not specify whether he could enter the country.

But a month later, at the Adana airport on his way to Germany , police Superintendent Uzun told Eisele that the police notice in his file meant that he would not be allowed back into the country. Though the Eiseles experienced no hassles returning to Turkey through Istanbul in August 2005, it was once again Superintendent Uzun in Adana who denied them entry in February.

Returning alone two weeks later to pack up and sell his families belongings, Eisele experienced no difficulty reentering the country. “I don’t always understand the system,” he commented to Compass.

Attack on ‘Turkishness’

Proselytizing and conversion to any religion are allowed under Turkey ’s secular legal system, but Turkish authorities remain hostile to foreign missionaries suspected of having ulterior political motives.

In eastern Turkey , where Kurdish separatists have recently renewed violent attacks, foreign interaction with Kurds is an especially sensitive issue.

When representatives of the German Evangelische Landeskirch (Lutheran) visited southeast Turkey in June 2005, the Islamic national daily Zaman reported that the Turkish Foreign Ministry sent a secret paper to Parliament warning of the Lutheran’s political motives.

“The Evangelists [sic] support the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” and want to force Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide before they can join the EU,” the June 30 article reported the Foreign Ministry as saying.

But political motives aside, many Turks see Islam as an essential part of their national identity. Proselytizing by foreigners is therefore often regarded as an attack on “Turkishness.’

A recent survey carried out by Bilgi University and Infakto Research Workshop found that for 52.4 percent of people surveyed, being atheist, Christian or Jewish did not mesh with being a Turk. More than 22 percent said that being a Sunni Muslim best defined “Turkishness,” according to the study, published in the weekly Tempo magazine.

Foreigners cannot get work permits for religious work unless hired by an organization that has established legal status. Expatriate Christians who want to start a new church where one does not yet exist are faced with two options: apply for a work permit under another profession, or live in Turkey on a tourist visa that must be renewed in three month increments.

In recent months Turkish authorities have increased taxes and insurance requirements for foreign-owned businesses, making it increasingly difficult for foreign owners of small companies to qualify for work permits.

Though Turkish law governing foreign work permission promises to process all work permit applications within 90 days, foreigners have reported delays in excess of six months.

One Christian foreigner living in eastern Turkey told Compass that after waiting eight months for a three-year work visa renewal, he instead received a one year permit. By the time it was sent to him, the work permit was only good for another four months.