Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 213 | Wed 05 Jun 2013
TURKEY: AT THE CROSSROADS?
By Elizabeth Kendal
The 'Great Schism' of 1054 left the church divided into Western (Latin / Roman) and Eastern (Greek / Byzantine) branches. As imperialist Ottoman Islamic forces advanced northwards, the Eastern Church found itself on the front-line of Islamic jihad. In 1095, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I appealed to Pope Urban II for help to defend Constantinople (the magnificent capital of the Byzantine Empire), re-conquer Asia Minor and liberate Jerusalem. The First Crusade was launched. In 1204, however, Western crusaders got sidetracked while en route to the Fourth Crusade. Instead of liberating the Holy Land, they sacked and looted Constantinople, weakening the city irredeemably. Abandoned by the West, Constantinople fell to invading Ottoman forces on 29 May 1453. After a period of killing and looting, the Christian remnant was subjugated and Constantinople -- the centre of Eastern Christianity for over 1000 years -- became the base from which the 21-year-old Ottoman Emperor Fatih Sultan Mehmed II -- 'The Conqueror' -- would launch his jihad into Europe.
May 29 is celebrated annually in Turkey as Conquest Day. This year Turks celebrated 560 years of Turkish rule in Constantinople / Istanbul. In an article for Huffington Post (29 May 2013), Drs Elizabeth H Prodromou and Alexandros K Kyrou report: 'Visitors to Istanbul on May 29th  could hardly mistake the nationalist message of the city draped in Turkish flags for as far as the eye could see, and under the current Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, secular nationalism has been augmented with a religious message about the fall of Constantinople as a sign of Islam's triumph over Christianity.' Erdogan has even proposed that Conquest Day be declared a national holiday and the historic Byzantine Christian Cathedral of Hagia Sophia -- presently a museum -- be converted into a functioning mosque. As Prodromou and Kyrou note, '[T]he fall of Constantinople on 29 May in 1453 began an unrelenting, centuries-long pattern of persecution and discrimination against the city's Christian population.' Like most Christians, they regard the 'erasure of Christians from Constantinople . . . [as] one of the tragedies of history'. Later, Ataturk modernised and Westernised Turkey (1923-38), but only after he had ethnically cleansed it of its Christian peoples: Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians. Since then, massacres, systematic discrimination and persecution have caused Turkey's Christian remnant to decline to a mere 0.2 percent. As one church leader described them, they are 'an endangered species'. As far as Prodromou and Kyrou are concerned, 'The siege of Constantinople continues today, 560 years after the fall on 29 May, 1453.'
But not everybody in Istanbul was partying on 29 May, with some setting up camp in Taksim Square's Gezi Park in defiance of government orders. Police stormed the camp on 30 May and returned on 31 May with water cannons, tear gas and barricades. The local confrontation has since morphed into nation-wide protests and riots by Turks who are sick of PM Erdogan's corrupt and arrogant dictatorial rule and heavy-handedness. They are also unhappy about his re-Islamisation and re-Ottomanisation of Turkey (photo gallery). Derided as 'the Sultan' by pro-secular Turks and 'the Caliph' by Syria's al-Assad, Erdogan is supremely confident that he is popular and powerful enough to ride out any storm. He plans to run for the presidency in the 2014 elections, after he has amended the constitution to bolster presidential powers. He has already gutted the military and silenced dissent. Yes, Turkey's prisons are full -- of generals, lawyers, writers, comedians and artists!
(See: Erdogan, Ergenekon, Europe and the Islamisation of Turkey,
by Elizabeth Kendal for RLM, 3 Oct 2012.)
According to Pew Institute (April 2013), only 12 percent of Turks want to live in an Islamic State with Sharia Law. Erdogan's legitimacy rests on his ability to deliver stability and prosperity -- not Islamisation. However, by aligning Turkey with the US-Saudi-Qatar Sunni axis against Assad in Syria (contrary to the will of the people who took to the streets demanding neutrality), Erdogan has seriously damaged Turkey's relations with its two main trading partners, Russia and Iran. Furthermore, the brutality of the present crackdown on protesters is generating more opposition. It is even possible that the military, which has been seen handing out gas masks to the protesters to protect them from tear gas and taking the injured to hospital, may not remain loyal to the government.
Turkey is at a crossroads. Could this be an opening for change that will be more than skin deep? Might Islamisation be halted? Might liberty and equality become a reality? Pray for Turkey through these days, weeks and months of turmoil and questioning, for the sake of the gospel and the long-suffering remnant Church.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --
* God will raise up Turkish leaders who will reject Islamisation and dictatorship and lead Turkey with wisdom, integrity and fairness. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
* the Holy Spirit will give Turkey's Christian leaders -- bishops, pastors, lay and ethnic -- great discernment and wisdom as they seek to guide the Church through the present crisis, '. . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being'. (From Paul's prayer for the church in Ephesus (western Turkey); Ephesians 3:16 ESV.)
* God, who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (from Ephesians 3:20,21) will 'remember' Turkey, evangelised by Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos and multitudes of faithful servants and martyrs through the ages to the present day; may this land come to know the love and mercy of God as he answers prayer and pours out his Holy Spirit in grace to awaken and transform.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
TURKEY AT THE CROSSROADS?
On 29 May 1453 Constantinople fell to invading Ottoman forces. So the city at the centre of Eastern Christianity for 1000 years became the base from which Ottoman Emperor Fatih Sultan Mehmed II would launch his jihad into Europe. Ataturk modernised and Westernised Turkey (1923-38), but only after he had ethnically cleansed it of its Christian Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians. Since then, massacres, systematic discrimination and persecution have caused Turkey's Christian remnant to decline to a mere 0.2 percent of the population. As one church leader described them, they are 'an endangered species'. Turkey's recent re-Islamisation under Prime Minister Erdogan has caused its pro-secular masses to grow restless. They have now erupted in protest. Turkey is at a crossroads. May God guide his Church and bring awakening to Turkey.
Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)