Christians In Turkey Fear More Attacks After Killings At Publishing

Benjamin Harvey

AP Worldstream
Published: Apr 20, 2007

The slayings of three Christians in eastern Turkey highlight the
country’s uneasy relationship with its minorities, and Christians
expressed fear that growing nationalism and intolerance could lead
to more violence against them.

Police detained five more suspects Thursday in the attack at a
Christian publishing house that distributes Bibles. Some reportedly
said they carried out the killings to protect Islam.

The three victims _ a German man and two Turks who converted to
Christianity _ were found a day earlier with their hands and legs
tied and their throats slit. Their faces were bruised, and the ropes
had cut into their wrists.

On Friday, the Hurriyet newspaper reported that at least one victim
was stabbed many times.

"There were so many stab wounds that we couldn’t count them," Hurriyet
quoted Dr. Murat Ugras as saying. "It was clearly torture."

The attack added to concerns in Europe about whether the predominantly
Muslim country _ which is bidding for European Union membership _
can protect its religious minorities.

Christian leaders said they worried that nationalists were stoking
hostilities against non-Turks and non-Muslims by exploiting growing
uncertainty over Turkey’s place in the world.

The uncertainty _ and growing suspicion against foreigners _ has
been driven by the faltering EU bid, a resilient Kurdish separatist
movement and by increasingly vocal Islamists who see themselves _
and Turkey _ as locked in battle with a hostile Christian West.

"Our lives are in danger because of this mind-set," the Rev. Ihsan
Ozbek, pastor of the Kurtulus Church in Ankara, told a news conference
in Malatya. He said there was a "witch hunt" under way against
Christians and other minorities.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican secretary of state is
Pope Benedict XVI’s top aide, called the attack "an insane act by a
fanatic minority."

"We must not waste the fruits of the pope’s visit to Turkey, which
has really brought us closer," Bertone was quoted as saying by Italian
news agency ANSA.

The pope visited Turkey in November, promising greater understanding
and dialogue with Islam.

Nationalists, who have long dominated public debate in Turkey, have
also begun to call for Turkey to withdraw its EU bid and make its
own way in the world. Some young men indoctrinated with a vision of
Turkish greatness _ and with a view of the West as intent on keeping
the Islamic world weak _ view non-Muslims with suspicion.

"The problem is our education and our media," Mustafa Efe, head
of Mujde FM, or Miracle FM, a Christian broadcasting station, said
after traveling to Malatya to meet Protestant pastors. "They always
say Christianity is dangerous because Christians are trying to break
up Turkey."

Christians make up just a fraction of 1 percent of Turkey’s population
of 71 million.

"There is this general atmosphere of fear _ that Turkey will be
segmented," said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a human rights lawyer who
represented one of the slain Christians, Necati Aydin, 26, in an
earlier court case. Aydin was charged with insulting Islam and spent
a month in jail after he was found distributing Bibles in the Aegean
city of Izmir.

Hurriyet newspaper quoted one unidentified suspect as saying: "We
didn’t do this for ourselves, but for our religion. Our religion is
being destroyed. Let this be a lesson to enemies of our religion."

Besides the five suspects detained Thursday, four others were taken
into custody at the publishing house Wednesday, as well as a fifth
who underwent surgery for head injuries after he apparently tried
to escape the crime scene by jumping from a fourth-story window. All
were in their late teens or early 20s.

Since last year, Turkish youths have killed a Roman Catholic priest
while he prayed in a church in Trabzon, threatened other priests and
killed a prominent Armenian Christian editor in Istanbul.

The latest violence comes ahead of presidential elections next month, a
contest that highlights fears among Turkey’s secular establishment that
a candidate from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted
party, or even Erdogan himself, could win the job and strengthen
Islamic influence on the government.

Erdogan has rejected the label of "Islamist," citing his commitment
to Turkey’s effort to join the EU.

Christians and other minorities have watched Turkey’s struggling
EU bid with alarm. Many worry the papacy of Benedict XVI, who when
he was still a cardinal spoke against Turkey’s bid for membership,
would only contribute to their problems.

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