“Today, Christians, who have been reduced to a mere 0.15 percent of Turkey’s population, are treated as a fifth column by the state, thwarted in their ability to preserve their churches,” Nina Shea writes in the National Review Online. “All of Turkey’s Christian traditions still face tight restrictions: rules against the possession of churches, bans against seminaries to train new clergy, and prohibitions from wearing religious garb in public.”
By Nina Shea
4/24/2012 Turkey (National Review Online) – Yesterday, at a commemorative event at the Holocaust Museum here in Washington, President Obama announced a new initiative — the creation of a committee to be named the “Atrocities Prevention Board.” This group is supposed to build on the president’s 2011 directive to prevent and stop genocide and other mass atrocities.
As Mark noted below, today, Obama’s resolve will be put to an immediate test, because it’s Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Will the president or his new committee dare to speak up? This is the fourth chance Obama has had as president to acknowledge this other holocaust. As a presidential candidate, he excoriated the Bush administration for failing to speak up about the Armenian genocide, yet his administration has also remained silent.
Some 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been slaughtered in Turkey as Ottoman rule collapsed between 1915 and 1923. About 750,000 Arameans or Assyrians and 350,000 Pontic Greeks are also thought to have perished during this period. (For an unforgettable account of the ordeal of this last group, whose story is not generally well known, read Thea Halo’s Not Even My Name.) These Christian populations were victimized under a radically secular movement of “Young Turks” that had risen up and set in motion a “Turkification” program which shaped in no small part Atatürk’s government and is reflected in some of Turkey’s current laws and policies.
Today, Christians, who have been reduced to a mere 0.15 percent of Turkey’s population, are treated as a fifth column by the state, thwarted in their ability to preserve their churches. All of Turkey’s Christian traditions still face tight restrictions: rules against the possession of churches, bans against seminaries to train new clergy, and prohibitions from wearing religious garb in public. And while the government recently gave back a Greek Orthodox orphanage (though there are no longer orphans to reside there), and allowed liturgies to be carried out once a year in a few long-confiscated churches, last year it also oversaw the strategic continuation of oppressive patterns: the state confiscation of part of a 1,600-year-old Syriac monastery and the conversion of the Nicean Saint Sophia church, where the first Christian Ecumenical Council met in 325, into a mosque.
After ten years in power, the Islamist AKP government has failed to rescind the onerous regulations that are contributing to take a toll on the country’s 2,000-year-old Christian church. Not only has Turkey never acknowledged the genocide of a hundred years ago, it still criminally punishes those who even try to raise it.