Wednesday, July 20, 2016

RLPB 367. Turkey: Christians Face Elevated Risk

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 367 | Wed 20 Jul 2016

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by Elizabeth Kendal

Shortly before midnight on Friday 15 July a faction within the Turkish military and Gendarmerie seized control of strategic locations in Istanbul and Ankara. Subsequently, Turkish fighter jets fired at the National Intelligence Organisation, the Presidential Palace and the National Assembly. Soldiers seized control of the national broadcaster, forcing the presenter to read a declaration that the Committee for National Peace had taken charge to prevent any further erosion of democratic and secular values. However, what the faction failed to do was seize control of President Erdogan who was holidaying in the resort town of Marmaris. At 12:30am on 16 July Erdogan issued a live statement via the smartphone app FaceTime, calling his supporters out onto the streets. Islamic religious leaders and mosques loyal to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) amplified the call, with mosques repeating the call to prayer throughout the night to encourage people to join the counter-coup. By 2am the coup was falling apart; by morning it was over and the elected government was back in control.

The counter-coup prevails
In pictures: Daily Mail
The details of this coup get murkier the deeper you dig and it may be some time before the truth becomes clear. Whilst it is not the place of the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin to examine murky details and intrigues [watch the Religious Liberty Monitoring blog for that], it suffices to say that the failed coup seems not to have been a 'Kemalist'/secularist coup as claimed. This is relatively unsurprising as Erdogan -- who is a pro-Muslim Brotherhood conservative Islamist -- had already purged the military of powerful secularists. Rather, it seems the coup leaders are indeed linked to the influential Gulen movement, a liberal Islamist movement that once supported Erdogan -- even facilitating his rise to power -- but is now essentially at war with him and the AKP. Nobody doubts that President Erdogan will use this crisis to tighten his grip on power, advance his personality cult and even further his dangerous Islamo-Turkic nationalism.

As soon as he regained control, President Erdogan set about purging the 'virus' (as he calls it) from society; he has signalled that he is ready to reinstate the death penalty. By Tuesday night 19 July the number of military personnel arrested had risen to some 6,000 (including at least 34 generals), along with nearly 3,000 judges. Furthermore, nearly 9,000 police have been sacked, as have some 1,500 civil servants in the finance ministry and 492 from the Religious Affairs Directorate. More than 1,500 university deans have been ordered to resign and the licences of 21,000 teachers working at private institutions revoked. Twenty-four radio and TV channels have also had their licences cancelled.

Middle East Concern reports that two churches were attacked by Muslim mobs during the counter-coup. At the Catholic church of Santa Maria in Trabzon on the Black Sea coast, windows were smashed before the church's Muslim neighbours repelled the perpetrators and contacted the priest. Likewise, windows and glass door panels were smashed at the Malatya Protestant Church in south-east Turkey.
Taksim Square after the coup
In pictures: Daily Mail
It is of greater concern that the coup and counter-coup have fuelled a dramatic escalation in Islamic zeal and Islamo-Turkic nationalism. Responding to the call to remain in the streets, Erodogan's supporters are out in full force dressed in Islamic (not Western) garb, chanting Islamic slogans in Arabic. This will elevate the threat facing Turkey's non-Sunni Muslims (particularly the Alevis, who are already reporting pressure) and all non-Muslims (particularly Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians, and Muslim converts).

Furthermore, because the leader of the Gulen Movement, Fethullah Gulen (77), lives in the USA and because Erdogan believes the Gulen Movement provides a front for the CIA (American intelligence) activities abroad, Erdogan and the AKP have accused the US of being 'behind the coup'. Whether this is true or not, the accusation alone will elevate the threat facing Turkey's Gulenists, Kemalists/secularists, Kurds and Christians, as well as any foreigners perceived to be aligned with the US. The threat facing Turkey's Christians may be greater now than at any time since Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924.


* our Father, the Almighty God, will intervene in Turkey to restore peace and order so the Church (the Body of Christ) might be secure. May the Church’s Muslim neighbours reject every attempt to incite violence against Christians, and resist every temptation to exploit the situation to their own advantage.

* the ever present Holy Spirit will grace Turkey’s Christians with holy wisdom in abundance as they seek to navigate the difficult and dangerous days ahead.

* Christ our redeemer will redeem this crisis, subverting and defeating the enemies of the Gospel and sanctifying the Church that the Kingdom of God might grow in grace and number across all Turkey.
'Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.' (Ephesians 3:20,21 ESV)


The coup attempt of 15-16 July, along with the 'people's counter-coup' that put it down, has fuelled a dramatic escalation in conservative Islamic zeal and Islamo-Turkic nationalism. The threat facing non-Sunni Muslims and all non-Muslims (particularly Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians, and Muslim converts) is now greatly elevated.  Furthermore, the failed coup has empowered President Erdogan (a conservative Islamist) and provided him an opportunity to eliminate his opponents, tighten his grip on power, advance his personality cult and even further his dangerous Islamo-Turkic nationalism. The threat facing alleged 'enemies of the state' -- i.e. Gulenists, Kemalists/secularists, non-Turks, non-Muslims -- is now greatly heightened. The threat facing Turkey's Christians may be greater now than at any time since Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924. Please pray for Turkey and its Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016). See