Anti-Missionary Witch-hunt Haunts City in Eastern Turkey
Muslim woman attacked for Christianizing, while followers of Jesus live in disgrace.
by Peter Lamprecht
ISTANBUL, April 20 (Compass Direct) Fanned by local media and a Muslim mufti, an anti-missionary witch-hunt targeting Christians in Turkeys eastern city of Bingol left a Muslim woman beaten in her tailor shop last month while police allowed her attacker to walk free.
Guler Morsumbul has not yet found a lawyer willing to represent her in court next Monday (April 24) against the man who attacked her six weeks ago, accusing her of Christianizing his daughter.
On the morning of March 8, Mehmet Caf entered the Muslim womans tailor shop in Bingols city center, vandalized the premises and beat Morsumbuls face black and blue.
In front of police and Morsumbuls neighbors, Caf claimed that Morsumbul had been trying to Christianize his 13-year-old daughter, Bingols local Kent Haber newspaper reported on March 9.
Were Being Christianized, shouted the papers banner headline. Providing only Cafs initials, the article quoted his claims that Morsumbul and other missionaries had forced his daughter and 100 other students to attend a secret mass.
Ismet Gunyel, a relative of Morsumbul and one of only four known Christians in the city, confirmed reports that Caf had not been arrested. But he refuted Kent Habers claims that Morsumbul and her husband did not want to open a case against Caf.
Another relative of Morsumbul, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the womans family wished to prosecute Caf. She is the complainant in the case, the relative said. They should have arrested Caf, but they didnt and hes still free.
Gunyel told Compass that it took Morsumbul, 49, three days to find a doctor who was willing to examine her and issue a medical report. Finding a lawyer has been even more difficult.
As one local source commented, area lawyers have said in essence, I dont want to be an advocate for these missionaries.
Climate of Fear
Gunyel told Compass that many others have suffered from rising anti-missionary sentiment in Bingol since reports of missionary activity first appeared in a national newspaper three years ago.
Whoever has a grudge against someone else, whoever wants to destroy someones business, simply calls the other person a Christian, said the 45-year-old who converted to Christianity over 10 years ago.
According to Gunyel, Caf attacked Morsumbul as part of a revenge campaign by one of Cafs relatives, a former business partner and now competitor of Morsumbuls husband.
After the two business associates reportedly parted ways in 2004, Cafs family began to spread rumors that the Morsumbuls were building a church and converting Muslims.
Overall, Gunyel said the main responsibility for the growing fear of missionaries in the city lay with Bingols mufti, Yalcin Topcu. As the state-appointed Muslim authority for the province, the mufti had organized an anti-missionary conference in 2004.
Yet in an interview with Compass, Topcu said anti-missionary fears in Bingol were so strong that he himself was a potential victim.
When Morsumbuls husband came to see him after she was attacked, the mufti said, I told him, If today I support you and explain everything, tomorrow theyre going to come after me and say I was the one doing Christian propaganda. I dont feel safe.
Talk of suspected Christian proselytizing first emerged in May 2003, when Gunyel helped Turkish Christians from the neighboring city of Diyarbakir distribute tents in the wake of an earthquake.
A May 22 article in national daily Vakit claimed Gunyel was helping missionaries profit from the suffering of the earthquake victims by distributing Bibles in relief packages.
Gunyel said that life with his wife and two sons (also Christians) remained relatively peaceful until January 2004, when they happened to appear on national television attending a church service.
During the evening news, Kanal 7 TV station ran a 10-minute clip on the Turkish Protestant Church in Diyarbakir , where Gunyel and his family happened to be visiting. Gunyels wife drew the attention of both television cameras and commentators because her head was covered in the typical Islamic style.
After that, everyone in Bingol started to ask questions, Gunyel told Compass. Neighbors and relatives reacted by cutting all ties with the family. Our business relations terminated. Our lives were a complete disgrace.
Mufti Topcu said that to help ease everyones anxiety, his office organized a week-long conference in April 2004 on the danger of missionary activities in Bingol.
Dont give in to the illusion that our surroundings are secure, the conferences keynote speaker, Mehmet Keskin from the Ankara Religious Affairs Directorate, was quoted by local Bingol newspaper as saying.
According to the April 8, 2004 article, Keskin claimed there had been reports that 50 to 60 people in Bingol had converted to Christianity and were trying to take over Turkish soil.
Gunyel said that, far from calming fears, the conference only made the situation worse. At that time we were always afraid, the Christian said. They were talking about missionaries, but in a qualified way they were talking about us, because there are no other Christians in Bingol.
Gunyel told Compass that his relatives were constantly threatened with violence if Gunyel did not publicly renounce Christianity or leave the city. Soon after the conference, a group of women barged into a store belonging to one of his relatives, thinking that it belonged to Gunyel. Store employees quickly told the women that they had come to the wrong place; when the women asked them for directions to Gunyels clothing shop, they claimed ignorance.
Those were terrible days. We kept thinking, Now theyre going to attack us, Gunyel said. Within seven months of the conference I suffered a terrible heart attack.
The November 15, 2004 heart attack left the Christian dependent on medication to control erratic blood pressure.
All of this is happening because of the mufti, a relative of Gunyel who requested anonymity told Compass. He really wants to drive Gunyel out of this city.
Rights Advocate Deported
Gunyel also took issue with Bingols governor and security directorate for remaining silent on the issue.
Bingol Gov. Vehbi Avuc repeatedly declined to talk with Compass by telephone, and his personal secretary said he had no knowledge of the situation.
Mufti Topcu acknowledged that anti-missionary fears had been misused for personal advantage but also said that missionaries with ulterior political motives were a problem in Bingol. In my personal opinion, missionary activities are political they arent actually a service to religion, the mufti commented.
With the resurgence of Kurdish separatist attacks throughout Turkey in the past year, Bingols ethnic Kurdish majority has made city officials especially sensitive to perceived political meddling.
Last week Turkey deported Human Rights Watch researcher Jonathan Sugden, who was investigating human rights abuses in Bingol.
The British national told Compass yesterday that he had been officially deported on April 13 for carrying out research on a tourist visa. Thus he refuted claims by Turkish media that he had been making inflammatory speeches to villagers.
Gunyel admitted he was worried that anti-missionary violence will continue if Caf is not duly punished. He said that, as Christians, his own family is in danger now because anyone can go to Bingol, beat up someone and not get arrested because the person they beat up is [labeled] a Christian.