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ICC Note: While legally Turkey professes religious freedom in practice these rights are often greatly infringed. Turkey has made it extremely difficult for its religious minorities to provide training for religious leadership. The result has been that many religious communities are dwindling. In the most recent example an American who has lived and volunteered at a church in SE Turkey for 12 years was blacklisted as a threat to national security and barred entry into the country.
By Damaris Kremida
7/29/2013 Turkey (WorldWatchMonitor) – After 12 years serving a church in Turkey voluntarily and peacefully, Jerry Mattix suddenly is on the country’s blacklist.
Officially, the government has deemed Mattix a threat to national security. Yet the police have told him he is “welcome” to apply for a visa.
Such is the perplexing state of affairs in Turkey’s southeast province of Diyarbakir, where Mattix and several other once-welcome Christian foreigners have become personae non gratae.
In April and June, Turkey denied Mattix, a U.S. citizen, a religious-worker visa. When he and his family tried on June 7 to re-enter the country, they were turned away.
He and his family had lived in Diyarbakir for over a decade, helping the local church. Mattix also has authored several books, in Turkish, explaining Christianity.
“What exactly they cite as my crime that is so threatening to national security I do not know,” Mattix told World Watch Monitor from the United Kingdom, “but I can only guess that it has to do with the fact that I have been serving the local Turkish churches all these years.”
Diyarbakir is known for its diverse mix of Turks of Kurdish, Arab and Syrian ethnic background. It also is located near the epicenter of ongoing clashes between Turkish military and Kurdish rebels, and not far from Turkey’s border with Syria, over which thousands of Syrian refugees have fled, overwhelming local authorities. These issues have made the region politically sensitive for Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which is trying to marry democratic principles with modern Islam.
Mattix and his family are not the only ones who have discovered their welcome has worn out. In the past two years, at least six other foreign-born families have either been deported or denied renewals of their residency permits.
“Sadly, this is not just a personal vendetta on the part of the government,” Mattix said. “Several other Christian workers in our region and connected to our church have been forced to leave in the last year.”
Since May, when protests against the ruling government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan erupted in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, some foreign nationals have expressed apprehension about the government’s view of them. Turkish authorities arrested seven foreign nationals on June 5, on suspicion of helping to provoke the riots, which sparked demonstrations nationwide, Hurriyet Daily News reported.
For their part, churches in southeastern Turkey say they’ve been deprived of their right to obtain help and support from foreigners.
The 2010 charter granting association status to the Protestant church in Diyarbakir specified it could employ local or foreign clergy or religious workers on a paid or volunteer basis for the purpose of educating its members. Turkey’s constitution, furthermore, grants all citizens freedom to choose, study, and communicate their religion.
Ahmet Guvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church for the last 16 years, said losing Mattix has left them ill-equipped to do so.
“This is leaving us in a really difficult position,” he told World Watch Monitor, “because we don’t have a religious worker and in Turkey it is forbidden to train our own [Christian] theologians. We invite foreign Christian workers, but here we encounter serious residency problems and we are left at a loss as to what to do.”

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