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Religious Leaders Request Police Investigate Incident as a Hate Crime

02/26/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) –  International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on Sunday, February 23, 2019, threatening graffiti messages were found on the main entrance door of the Armenian Church of the Holy Mother of God (Balat Surp Hreshdagabet) in Istanbul, Turkey. According to a statement issued by the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, “There were written racist and hate speeches in both English and Arabic [saying] you are finished!”

The church’s security cameras obtained footage of the incident and the church administration filed a criminal complaint at the Fatih District Police Department. The statement continued, “It is our greatest wish that such events do not happen again and the criminals are punished.”

The incident has drawn widespread condemnation from across Turkey’s Armenian community, who are frequently harassed and targeted through hate crimes. The Armenian Genocide from 1915-1917 continues to haunt those few who remain in Turkey, as both nationalists and Islamists view Armenians as an inherent threat to the constitutionally protected status of Turkishness.

A prominent Armenian writer, Murad Mıhçı, shared images of the vandalism on Twitter, saying, “The walls and the door of the Balat Surp Armenian Church. Its entrance we built with the rocks from the historical church in İznik (Nicaea), where the council met. (Now) the church opens one day a year, it is believed to give a remedy to the people. As they say, ‘ARE YOU FINISHED?’ There are no local (Armenian) people left. The ‘New Turkey!’”

Garo Paylan, an Armenian Member of Parliament, tweeted, “A hate attack has been carried out against Balat Surp Hreshdagabet Armenian Church. Every year, scores of hate attacks are being carried out against churches and synagogues. Not just the perpetrators, but also the people who are behind them, should be addressed. For the most important part, the politics that produce hate should be ended.”

According to Turkey’s Protestant Churches Association’s 2018 Violence Monitoring Report, hate speech against all Christians has increased significantly within the last year. Christian leaders have raised concerns that the intensity of hate speech is similar to the days preceding the 2007 Zirve Publishing House massacre, sometimes referred to as the missionary massacres.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Thankfully, no one was hurt during this incident. However, the gravity of the situation cannot be ignored. Armenian Christians have long suffered targeted harassment and violence in Turkey, which drove most to flee. The general increase of hate speech in Turkey directed against Christians sounds the alarm that the environment is increasingly hostile toward non-Muslims. Turkey purports itself to be a secular nation, a country which has turned over a new leaf. If such is true, then those who encourage and commit these hate crimes against Christians must be held accountable before the situation escalates to something worse.”       

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