02/21/2020 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – Joy turned into shock this week as Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was rearrested just hours after he was acquitted of terror charges this past Tuesday. He was originally detained for two years on terror charges related to the Gezi Park Protests, a detainment that international observers have called “politically motivated.” His sudden acquittal came as a surprise, which was short-lived. Shortly afterwards, the authorities again arrested him on terror charges, this time relating to the 2016 coup attempt.
Many regard this case as an indicator of religious freedom’s deterioration in Turkey, although it is connected in an indirect way. As a philanthropist, Kavala’s work encompasses many cultural and historical angles. A significant amount of his work involved the publication of numerous books on the Armenian Genocide, a topic which Turkey actively discourages conversation about. Kavala’s philanthropic work included attempts to build bridges of reconciliation between communities damaged by Turkey’s genocidal history—many of these victims were Christians. Even prior to his arrest, Kavala was under significant pressure from the authorities as attempts were made to prevent him from engaging in this kind of work.
The genocide of Christians in Turkey occurred as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing in the early 1900s. It effectively demolished Christianity throughout the country. Though modern-day Turkey is constitutionally secular, the constitution also protects Turkishness, a concept that implies that all Christians are foreign and all Turks are Muslim. Though some Christians survived the genocide, their children and grandchildren continue to suffer its consequences. Some Turks such as Kavala have made attempts at recognizing this history and its continued impact, but the government heavily harasses all efforts.
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