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ICC Note: The St. Maria Catholic Church in the Black Sea area of Turkey has suffered two attacks this year. It is the only active congregation in the city of Trabzon. No one was injured in the attacks because with barely a dozen members, the church had no activities happening at the time. This part of Turkey has a long history of violent persecution towards Christians, nearly completing the physical annihilation of Christians in this area.  

05/25/2018 Turkey (Providence) –  In the Turkish city Trabzon, where few Christians are left, St. Maria Catholic Church has suffered its second attack this year. A gunman shot at the church on March 6, but there were no causalities because no one was inside at the time. The congregation is the only active one in Trabzon and has barely a dozen members.

International media first noticed St. Maria on February 5, 2006, when Oğuzhan Akdin murdered Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian Catholic priest who served there. In 2011, it emerged that the police had tapped Santoro’s phones for three months before his murder. Authorities had marked him as a suspect active in “separatist activities based on the Pontian Greek idea,” that is, establishing a Greek Orthodox state in the Black Sea area.

The name of Pontians (or Pontic people) derives from the Greek word “Pontus,” meaning “the sea,” and refers to the Greek population that lived for three millennia in the Black Sea coastal cities, which are now in northern Turkey. The first Greek settlements appeared in the region as early as 800 BC, and many renowned Greek philosophers, such as Diogenes and Strabo, were born here. Trabzon, historically known as Trebizond, is also located in Pontus.

Mentioned three times in the New Testament, Pontus is central to the Christian faith, and Pontians were some of the very first converts to Christianity. According to the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago, Andrew the Apostle was the first Christian preacher in the region, and after his ministry the religion quickly spread across the area.

However, Anatolian Christianity began to decline in the eleventh century. In 1071, Turkic jihadists from Central Asia invaded the Armenian highland, which was then part of the Greek-speaking, Christian Byzantine Empire. In 1204, Pontians established the Greek Empire of Trebizond centered in Pontus. After the Ottomans established a state in western Anatolia in 1299, they escalated their attacks on surrounding regions. The Byzantine Empire ended when Constantinople fell in 1453, and then in 1461 the Ottomans invaded Trebizond and forced Christians to convert to Islam. Under the new rulers, Christians and Jews became “dhimmis,” third-class citizens forced to pay a tax in exchange for “protection.”

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