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Armed Men Threaten Church
Incident in Ankara marks seventh threat of violence in past four months.

5/7/08 ISTANBUL, Turkey (Compass Direct News) – Three men, one of them armed with a gun and wearing gloves, threatened a Protestant church and its pastor in the Turkish capital city of Ankara yesterday. The culprits fled in a car before police could be summoned.

The attempted attack marked the seventh incident in the past four months of threatened violence against Turkey’s tiny Protestant community, most of whom are former Muslims who converted to Christianity.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday (May 6), three men drove up in a blue car to the Kurtulus Church in Ankara’s Cebeci district. A heavy-set man about 45 years old went up to the locked church building and began to ring the doorbell repeatedly.

“Where is the pastor? We are searching for the pastor,” he said to a church member nearby who was cleaning his car.

The church member, who happened to be waiting outside the building for a friend, explained that the church was closed and the pastor was not around. He suggested that they return on Sunday, when the church would be open for worship services between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“So are you involved here?” demanded the inquirer.

“Yes,” responded the church member. “Why are you looking for the pastor?”

Ignoring the question, the suspect again asked where the pastor could be found. When the church member again suggested they come back on Sunday, the man demanded, “Tell us! We are going to get rid of that pastor!”

Turning around, the suspect returned to his car and consulted with its two occupants. Then another middle-aged man got out of the car. Holding a pistol in his gloved right hand, the assailant began walking toward the church member, shouting and pointing the weapon at him.

“I ran toward a crowded area 20 meters away,” the church member said. “The suspect followed me for awhile. Then we both stopped. He stared at me for a few seconds and then went back to his friends at the car, and they drove off.”

The semi-official Anatolian News Agency claimed in its report yesterday that the attackers were drunk. But the church member who interacted with them said he had no indication that the men were under the influence of alcohol.

Although the Kurtulus Church had installed a security camera a year ago, shortly after the knifing murders of three Christians in Malatya, the recording had been accidentally disabled when the computer to which it was linked was switched off last Sunday after the church service.

Together with two of his church members, Kurtulus Church pastor Ihsan Ozbek spent most of last night with police officers investigating the incident. “The police seem to be taking the incident and the threat seriously,” Ozbek said.

One of his church members remarked, “For sure they don’t want any violence against Christians to happen here in the capital!”

“Unfortunately these things keep happening here in Turkey,” Ozbek told Compass. “I hope that the state will do something, because we are not in any position to protect ourselves.”

Echoing comments made by the chairman of the Alliance of Turkish Protestant Churches at the Istanbul memorial service for the Malatya martyrs on April 20, Ozbek said, “The Turkish people must decide. Are they going to keep killing us, or are they going to allow us to worship in peace?”

Not Youths

One Kurtulus Church leader told Compass that it was significant that the suspects in this incident were middle-aged men, not youths. Previous attacks and threats against Turkey’s Christians during the past two years have all been attributed to young men, many of them minors under 18 years of age.

In addition, he said, the assailants came to the church in broad daylight without covering their faces, openly brandishing a gun, but taking care to conceal their fingerprints.

Yesterday’s incident was the seventh in a string of attacks and threats faced by Turkey’s Protestants in the past four months.

Ten days ago, police informed another Turkish Christian pastor in Ankara that someone involved in a plot to attack him had been caught and arrested.

The 30-year-old suspect, who was reportedly jailed and facing trial on charges filed by the state prosecutor, had previously visited the church and tried to arrange a private appointment with the pastor.

Last month in Kocaeli province, 50 miles from Istanbul, two nights in a row unidentified youths stoned the building of a Protestant congregation in Derince, breaking most of the windows. Security police were posted at the building after the incident.

Back in early March, members of the Protestant congregation in Gaziantep received a flood of threatening telephone calls to themselves, their families and their work places.

One European family attending a church in Istanbul’s Uskudar district was subjected to a security police visit at their home on February 14. Claiming to be investigating a complaint that the couple were involved in “missionary activity,” the plainclothes police interrogated them for 50 minutes.

Despite the complete legality of spreading one’s religious beliefs in Turkey, the police officers bombarded the couple with unfounded accusations and threatened to revoke their residence visas.

On January 25, the Izmit Protestant Church suffered still another attack when five youths threw rocks and broke a window in the pastor’s study. Another assailant remains on trial for starting a fire at the front door and shooting off a gun on the street outside the church last September.

In the first week of January, a 17-year-old was arrested with a gun in his possession after police overheard his telephone conversation, threatening a “massacre” against the Samsun Agape Church along the Black Sea coast. He remains on trial, although local judges released him and he failed to attend the first court hearing against him in March.

Turkish Protestants have listed 19 separate incidents of violence against their church buildings and members during the 2007 calendar year.

In the most prominent case, the five young men arrested for the slaughter of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske on April 18, 2007 will return for their sixth hearing before the Malatya criminal court on Monday (May 12).

Although prosecutors are demanding three consecutive life sentences for the culprits, Turkey’s Protestants remain unconvinced that the Turkish judicial system is committed to uncovering and prosecuting the instigators behind the five alleged killers.

“We don’t really expect justice to be done in this case,” one church leader admitted last weekend, after the graveside memorial service in Izmir for Aydin.