Tuesday, June 2, 2020

RLPB 552. Turkey: Erdogan Stokes the Fire of Islamic Zeal

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 552 | Wed 03 Jun 2020
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By Elizabeth Kendal

As noted in last week's RLPB 551 (27 May), Turkey's President Erdogan has been stoking the fire of Islamic zeal, putting the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians - whom he vilifies as enemies - in a perilous position. At the time of writing (26-27 May), the regime was hinting that Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation might possibly be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom) on Friday 29 May, i.e., 'Conquest Day', the day Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453. Sure enough, on Friday 29 May 2020, Islamic prayers were performed, and Quranic verses were recited inside the Hagia Sophia as a central element of the Turkish government's Conquest Day Fiesta. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the service had to proceed without an audience. However, the event was broadcast live on all the president's television, YouTube and social media channels.

More images: TRT World
In recent years, Conquest Day has grown in significance. Now an all-day spectacular, complete with re-enactments and fireworks, Conquest Day is not a 'Remembrance Day' in which war and death are lamented. On the contrary, Turkey's Conquest Day is a day which glorifies and celebrates Islamic imperial expansion and military aggression (Islamic jihad); conquest and occupation; the seizure of 'booty' and the slaughter, enslavement and subjugation of infidels (Christians) in a demonstration of Muslim supremacy. The seriousness of this trend cannot be overstated!

Christian advocacy groups In Defense of Christians (IDC), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) have all called on UNESCO to respond to Turkey's continued threat to violate Hagia Sophia's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and convert the museum into a mosque. As ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian explains, 'Erdogan's move to change the status of Hagia Sophia - the signature Christian landmark in Constantinople - both reflects and reinforces Turkey's century-long drive to erase the vast cultural and religious heritage of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other now-exiled indigenous Christian nations across the territory of modern-day Turkey.'

Quran recitation in Hagia Sophia,
Conquest Day, 29 May 2020.
YouTube excerpt
The passage which was read in the Church of Hagia Sophia - Sura (chapter) 48, 'Al Fath' ('The Victory') https://quran.com/48 - opens with the words: 'Indeed, We have given you, [O Muhammad], a clear conquest', that Allah might forgive your sins and bless you. Muslims who had refused to fight are condemned and denied any portion of the spoils. Unbelievers, it warns, will be judged with fire while Muslims will receive rich booty from Allah, their victory a sign to all believers that Allah is for them. The sura concludes (v29): 'Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers . . .' According to this verse, the Torah (Jewish scriptures) recognises Muslims as people of prayer, while the Gospel (Christian scriptures) recognises them as 'a plant which produces its offshoots and strengthens them so they grow firm and stand upon their stalks, delighting the sowers'; and that by this means Allah may enrage (make jealous) the disbelievers. It then closes with the promise of 'forgiveness and a great reward'.

The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text - especially when backed by the power of symbolism as the text is read inside the conquered Church of Hagia Sophia - cannot be overstated! Even if Erdogan does not deliver - and Hagia Sophia remains a museum - he will have stoked the fire of Islamic zeal among his neo-Ottoman Islamist supporter base so much that we should anticipate an escalation in persecution; even more so if Christians (local and/or foreign) are blamed for government inaction.


* protect, sustain, preserve and richly bless his precious Church in Turkey comprising (among others) remnant Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians as well as convert Arabs, Kurds and Turks; may the Church grow in unity, faith and grace to be a light that overcomes darkness and a voice of hope that counters despair.

* fill Turkey's Christian pastors and leaders (civic and religious) with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk [and lead] in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him ... being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy ...' (from Colossians 1:9-14 ESV).

* intervene in Turkey and, in grace and mercy, by the power of his Holy Spirit, produce awakening and transformation beyond anything we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).


Turkey's President Erdogan continues to inflame Islamic zeal, putting at risk the country's mostly Greek, Armenian and Assyrian remnant Christians, whom he vilifies as enemies. Annually, on 29 May, Muslim Turks celebrate the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Christian capital, Constantinople (which fell to Muslim forces on 29 May 1453). In recent years, 'Conquest Day' has grown to be an all-day spectacular. This year the government, playing to its neo-Ottoman Islamist base, allowed Islamic prayers and a Quran recitation to be performed inside the UNESCO world heritage-listed Church of Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom). The danger posed by the incitement inherent in the text (https://quran.com/48), especially when backed by the symbolism of the event and the president's inflammatory provocations, cannot be overstated. Please pray for the Church in Turkey.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: 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).