A letter to the Global Church from The Protestant Church of Smyrna (revised -- please use this version)
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
SMYRNA, TURKEY (ANS) -- Smyrna is an ancient city (today known as Izmir in Turkey) that was founded at a very early period at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia.
It was the second city to receive a letter from the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Acts 19:10 suggests that the church there was founded during Paul's third missionary journey. Due to the fact that the port city of Izmir houses the second largest population in Turkey today, the site of ancient Smyrna has been little excavated. Excepting the agora, theater, and sections of the Roman aqueduct, little remains of the ancient city.
But there is a protestant church in there that calls itself The Protestant Church of Smyrna and it has issued the following letter to the Global Church which was sent to ANS.
Here it is in its entirety:
A letter to the Global Church from The Protestant Church of Smyrna
This past week has been filled with much sorrow. Many of you have heard by now of our devastating loss here in an event that took place in Malatya, a Turkish province 300 miles northeast of Antioch, the city where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).
On Wednesday morning, April 18, 2007, 46 year old German Christian and father of three Tilmann Geske prepared to go to his office, kissing his wife goodbye and taking a moment to hug his son and give him the priceless memory, "Goodbye, son. I love you."
Tilmann rented an office space from Zirve Publishing. Zirve was also the location of the Malatya Evangelist Church office. A ministry of the church, Zirve prints and distributes Christian literature to Malatya and nearby cities in Eastern Turkey. In another area of town, 35 year old Pastor Necati Aydin, father of two, said goodbye to his wife, leaving for the office as well. They had a morning Bible Study and prayer meeting that some other believers in town would also be attending. Ugur Yuksel likewise made his way to the Bible study.
None of these three men knew that what awaited them at the Bible study was the ultimate testing and application of their faith, which would conclude with their entrance into glory to receive their crown of righteousness from Christ and honor from all the saints awaiting them in the Lord's presence.
On the other side of town, ten young men all under 20 years old put into place final arrangements for their ultimate act of faith, living out their love for Allah and hatred of infidels who they felt undermined Islam.
On Resurrection Sunday, five of these men had been to a by-invitation-only evangelistic service that Pastor Necati and his men had arranged at a hotel conference room in the city. The men were known to the believers as "seekers." No one knows what happened in the hearts of those men as they listened to the gospel. Were they touched by the Holy Spirit? Were they convicted of sin? Did they hear the gospel in their heart of hearts? Today we only have the beginning of their story.
These young men, one of whom is the son of a mayor in the Province of Malatya, are part of a tarikat, or a group of "faithful believers" in Islam. Tarikat membership is highly respected here; it's like a fraternity membership. In fact, it is said that no one can get into public office without membership in a tarikat. These young men all lived in the same dorm, all preparing for university entrance exams.
The young men got guns, bread knives, ropes and towels ready for their final act of service to Allah. They knew there would be a lot of blood. They arrived in time for the Bible Study, around 10 o'clock.
They arrived, and apparently the Bible Study began. Reportedly, after Necati read a chapter from the Bible the assault began. The boys tied Ugur, Necati, and Tilmann's hands and feet to chairs and as they videoed their work on their cellphones, they brutally tortured our brothers for almost three hours.
Neighbors in workplaces near the print house said later they had heard yelling, but assumed the owners were having a domestic argument so they did not respond.
Meanwhile, another believer Gokhan and his wife had a leisurely morning. He slept in till 10, ate a long breakfast and finally around 12:30 he and his wife arrived at the office. The door was locked from the inside, and his key would not work. He phoned and though it had connection on his end he did not hear the phone ringing inside. He called cell phones of his brothers and finally Ugur answered his phone. "We are not at the office. Go to the hotel meeting. We are there. We will come there," he said cryptically. As Ugur spoke Gokhan heard in the telephone's background weeping and a strange snarling sound.
He phoned the police, and the nearest officer arrived in about five minutes. He pounded on the door, "Police, open up!" Initially the officer thought it was a domestic disturbance. At that point they heard another snarl and a gurgling moan. The police understood that sound as human suffering, prepared the clip in his gun and tried over and over again to burst through the door. One of the frightened assailants unlocked the door for the policeman, who entered to find a grisly scene.
Tilmann and Necati had been slaughtered. Ugur's throat was likewise slit and he was barely alive.
Three assailants in front of the policeman dropped their weapons.
Meanwhile Gokhan heard a sound of yelling in the street. Someone had fallen from their third story office. Running down, he found a man on the ground, whom he later recognized, named Emre Gunaydin. He had massive head trauma and, strangely, was snarling. He had tried to climb down the drainpipe to escape, and losing his balance had plummeted to the ground. It seems that he was the main leader of the attackers. Another assailant was found hiding on a lower balcony.
To untangle the web we need to back up six years. In April 2001, the National Security Council of Turkey (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu) began to consider evangelical Christians as a threat to national security, on equal footing as Al Quaida and PKK terrorism. Statements made in the press by political leaders, columnists and commentators have fueled a hatred against 'missionaries' who they claim bribe young people to change their religion.
After that decision in 2001, attacks and threats on churches, pastors and Christians began. Bombings, physical attacks, verbal and written abuse are only some of the ways Christians are being targetted. Most significant is the use of media propaganda.
From December 2005, after having a long meeting regarding the Christian threat, the wife of Former Prime Minister Ecevit, historian Ilber Ortayli, Professor Hasan Unsal, Politician Ahmet Tan and writer/propogandist Aytunc Altindal, each in their own profession began a campaign to bring the public's attention to the looming threat of Christians who sought to "buy their children's souls". Hidden cameras in churches have taken church service footage and used it sensationally to promote fear and antagonism toward Christianity.
In an official televised response from Ankara, the Interior Minister of Turkey smirked as he spoke of the attacks on our brothers in Malatya. Amid public outrage and protests against the event and in favor of freedom of religion and freedom of thought, media and official comments ring with the same message, "We hope you have learned your lesson. We do not want Christians here."
It appears that this was an organized attack initiated by an unknown adult tarikat leader. As in the Hrant Dink murder in January 2007, and a Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in February 2006, minors are being used to commit religious murders because public sympathy for youth is strong and they face lower penalties than an adult convicted of the same crime. Even the parents of these children are in favor of the acts. The mother of the 16 year old boy who killed the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro looked at the cameras as her son was going to prison and said, "he will serve time for Allah."
The young men involved in the killing are currently in custody. Today news reported that they would be tried as terrorists, so their age would not affect the strict penalty. Assailant Emre Gunaydin is still in intensive care. The investigation centers around him and his contacts and they say the case will fall apart if he does not recover.
The Church in Turkey responded in a way that honored God as dozens of believers and pastors flew in as fast as they could to stand by the small church of Malatya and encourage the believers, take care of legal issues, and represent Christians to the media.
When Susanne expressed her wish to bury her husband in Malatya, the Governor tried to stop it, and when he realized he could not stop it, a rumor was spread that "it is a sin to dig a grave for a Christian." In the end, in an undertaking that should be remembered in Christian history forever, the men from the church in Adana (near Tarsus), grabbed shovels and dug a grave for their slain brother in an un-tended hundred year old Armenian graveyard.
Ugur was buried by his family in an Alevi Muslim ceremony in his hometown of Elazig, his believing fiance watching from the shadows as his family and friends refused to accept in death the faith Ugur had so long professed and died for.
Necati's funeral took place in his hometown of Izmir, the city where he came to faith. The darkness does not understand the light. Though the churches expressed their forgiveness for the event, Christians were not to be trusted. Before they would load the coffin onto the plane from Malatya, it went through two separate xray exams to make sure it was not loaded with explosives. This is not a usual procedure for Muslim coffins.
Necati's funeral was a beautiful event. Like a glimpse of heaven, hundreds of Turkish Christians and workers came to show their love for Christ, and their honor for this man chosen to die for Christ. Necati's wife Shemsa told the world, "His death was full of meaning, because he died for Christ and he lived for Christ. Necati was a gift from God. I feel honored that he was in my life, I feel crowned with honor. I want to be worthy of that honor."
Boldly the believers took their stand at Necati's funeral, facing the risks of being seen publicly and likewise becoming targets. As expected, the anti-terror police attended and videotaped everyone attending the funeral for their future use. The service took place outside at Buca Baptist church, and he was buried in a small Christian graveyard in the outskirts of Izmir.
Two assistant Governors of Izmir were there solemnly watching the event from the front row. Dozens of news agencies were there documenting the events with live news and photographs. Who knows the impact the funeral had on those watching? This is the beginning of their story as well. Pray for them.
In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne Geske in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want revenge, she told reporters. "Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do," she said, wholeheartedly agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary (Luke 23:34).
In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing, many many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne Geske has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, "She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do."
Many foreigners in Malatya will most likely move out, as their families and children have become publicly identified as targets to the hostile city. The remaining 10 believers are in hiding. What will happen to this church, this light in the darkness? Most likely it will go underground. Pray for wisdom, that Turkish brothers from other cities will go to lead the leaderless church. Should we not be concerned for that great city of Malatya, a city that does not know what it is doing? (Jonah 4:11)
When our Pastor Fikret Bocek went with a brother to give a statement to the Security Directorate on Monday they were ushered into the Anti-Terror Department. On the wall was a huge chart covering the whole wall listing all the terrorist cells in Izmir, categorized. In one prominent column were listed all the evangelical churches in Izmir. The darkness does not understand the light. "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also." (Acts 17:6)
Please pray for the Church in Turkey. "Don't pray against persecution, pray for perseverence," urges Pastor Fikret Bocek.
The Church is better having lost our brothers; the fruit in our lives, the renewed faith, the burning desire to spread the gospel to quench more darkness in Malatya .all these are not to be regretted. Pray that we stand strong against external opposition and especially pray that we stand strong against internal struggles with sin, our true debilitating weakness.
This we know. Christ Jesus was there when our brothers were giving their lives for Him. He was there, like He was when Stephen was being stoned in the sight of Saul of Tarsus.
Someday the video of the deaths of our brothers may reveal more to us about the strength that we know Christ gave them to endure their last cross, about the peace the Spirit of God endowed them with to suffer for their beloved Savior. But we know He did not leave their side. We know their minds were full of Scripture strengthening them to endure, as darkness tried to subdue the unsubduable Light of the Gospel. We know, in whatever way they were able, with a look or a word, they encouraged one another to stand strong. We know they knew they would soon be with Christ.
We don't know the details. We don't know the kind of justice that will or will not be served on this earth.
But we pray-- and urge you to pray-- that someday at least one of those five boys will come to faith because of the testimony in death of Tilmann Geske, who gave his life as a foreign Christian in Turkey, and the testimonies in death of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, the first martyrs for Christ out of the Turkish Church.
Details in this letter were obtained through various news and media sources based on preliminary press releases and interviews. The court cases are pending and specific evidence and autopsy reports from the crime are not yet available to the public.
Reported by Darlene N. Bocek (24 April 2007)
GERMAN SEMINARY INVESTIGATES MALATYA MURDERS
The following report from Martin Bucer Seminary (MBS) Bonn, Germany, was compiled by Titus Vogt, MBS Dean of International Programs.
The English translation was done by Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D., MBS Professor of Apologetics and Ethics.
THE LAST HOURS OF THE THREE MARTYRS:
Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske
The assassins deceived the victims in order to gain their trust.
Martin Bucer Seminary (Bonn, Germany) reconstructs the last hours of its student, Necati Aydin.
Martin Bucer Seminary (MBS) Dean for International Programs, Titus Vogt, led an investigation into the tragic events of 18 April 2007 by means of putting together the statements from all the witnesses. MBS remains close to the victims, survivors, and witnesses to the brutal murder in Malatya through its Turkish branch, as one of the victims, Necati Aydin, was their student. Until now, MBS has hesitated to give all the details to the public, but MBS President Thomas Schirrmacher has concluded now that nothing stands in the way of a full public statement of all the details.
MURDERERS SPENT MONTHS SURREPTITIOUSLY GAINING THE TRUST OF THE VICTIMS
Some months ago the murderers gained the trust of their intended victims. To do this, the assassins indicated an interest in the Christian faith and said they wanted more information about the Bible and its contents. What deception could be more powerful to Bible publishers who were themselves adult converts from Islam to Christianity? Under this guise, they met repeatedly with their future victims. Clearly the attack was planned well in advance.
On the morning of 18 April, two of the murderers came to the office of Zirve Publishing House in Malatya, which is an extension of a Protestant publisher based in Istanbul, with distribution offices in various Turkish cities. Among other things, they discussed the Christian faith with Necati Aydin, as they had done frequently over the previous months. On this particular morning, in addition to Tilmann Geske, the bookkeeper, Emin M., was also in the office. Everything seemed to be completely normal. In the course of the morning, M. left the office, not suspecting that he would never see Aydin and Geske alive again.
Shortly thereafter the three other assassins arrived and tied up the first two victims, while they threatened them with pistols. Two days before, the assassins had been taken into custody because of wielding weapons in public, but they had been set free because they were only carrying warning pistols.
As soon as the victims were tied up, the murderers began stabbing them with knives all over their bodies. A short time later Ugur Yuksel came into the office; he was immediately grabbed by the murderers and tied up. Right after that Gokhan H., also a Christian, stopped by the Zirve office, but he could not open the door, because it was locked from inside and the lock was jammed. H. tried to call the office and finally reached Ugur on the telephone. Ugur said that the planned meeting was not going to be held in the Zirve office; it would instead be held in a particular hotel. H. had the impression that something was wrong, so he called a friend in the city. This friend advised him to call the police, which Gokham H. did.
When the police arrived a few minutes later, the victims were still alive. The police demanded that the criminals open the door, at which they slit the throats of the victims. When the police forced the door and stormed the office, they found Aydin and Geske already dead. Yuksel was still alive and was rushed to a local hospital. In spite of emergency surgery and 51 units of blood, he died of his numerous and massive knife wounds.
The autopsy reports lead to the following picture: The bodies were covered with about 156 knife wounds in the pelvis area, lower body, anus, abdomen, and back. Their fingertips had been sliced repeatedly; and they had massive slashes on their necks which severed the windpipe and oesophagus.
The distinctively ritual manner of the murder, particularly the slicing of fingertips, is convincing observers of the consciously religious motivation of the assassins. The perpetrators seem to have been following the instructions of Sure 8:12, from the Koran. There it says (in the Rudi Paret German translation of the Koran), "I will strike terror into the hearts of unbelievers. Flay their necks (with a sword) and strike every finger."
The last half of the sentence is translated in even more striking terms in some versions. In the Rassoul and Zaidan translation it says, "chop off every finger;" the Azhar and Ahmadeyya translation says, "chop off every finger tip."
Three of the attackers were arrested directly in the office, where the attack was occurring; two tried to escape by climbing down an external downspout pipe. One more attacker was arrested in the second floor of the building, one floor below the crime scene. The final assassin, who is described by the others as the leader of the group, fell to the street from a significant height when the downspout pipe broke off from the wall of the building. He was brought to a hospital and spent some days in a coma, but he is now awake and is being questioned by police.
In the course of the next few days, some other suspects were taken into custody, including the son of a mayor (AKP party) from a town near to Malatya.
FIRST TURKISH MARTYRS SINCE 1923
At a press conference a day after the attack, Pastor Ihsan Ozbek (from Ankara), President of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, said "Yesterday Turkey was buried in the darkness of the Middle East."
He compared the common, country-wide, widely hawked conspiracy theories which accuse Christians of conspiring against Muslims with the medieval witch hunts in Europe. These conspiracy theories contain a deep phobia of foreign missionaries. In responding to an inquiry of why Geske, a foreign missionary, was in Malatya, Ozbek said this is already an unconscionable question, since in a truly democratic state one may not ask "why are you or they in Malatya?"
The pastor used very pointed words to portray the background of the murders which led the Turkish media to entitle a report on the news conference, "A gruesome brutality, but no surprise."
Ozbek said he was convinced that, "it is not the last martyrdom, though we hope from the bottom of our hearts that it could be the last martyrdom."
Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel are the first known Muslim converts to Christianity to be martyred, since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.Ugur Yuksel was buried according to Islamic/Alevitic rituals at the orders of his family which vehemently denies his Christian faith. The German victim was buried on 20 April in the Armenian cemetery in Malatya, following the wishes of his widow. This occurred after a bitter fight with the local authorities who unconditionally wanted to prevent Geske's burial in their city. Because of pressure applied by the German government, his burial was only delayed by three hours, from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Eye witnesses say that about 100 mourners from across Turkey came to his funeral. Necati Aydin, who was pastor of the local Protestant church in addition to his work in the Zirve Publishing House, was laid to rest on Saturday, 21 April, in his home town of Izmir. The roughly 500 mourners who attended his funeral were very deeply moved.
MEDIA STORM IN TURKEY
There has been an enormous media storm in Turkey following these events. Many Turks sent letters to the newspapers to express their deep disgust. The widow, Susanne Geske, earned tremendous admiration for her words in a TV interview the day after the massacre. She said she forgave the murderers of her husband, the way Christ forgave his murderers, citing Jesus' prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. "This is the reason why she wants to stay in Malatya with her children. Many letters to the newspapers are saying that now they really want to read the New Testament or even to describe themselves as Christians, since they no longer want to have anything to do with Islam.
This brutal attack is not really the act of a group of deluded youth, since the media has been provoking antagonism against Christians for a long time. One of the most harmless media lies is that Christian are paying Muslims to convert to Christianity; one of the more disturbing is that Christians offer prostitutes to Muslims, in order to entice them to become Christians. Two events related to the funeral of Necati Aydin serve to illustrate the deep ambivalence of Turkish society toward Christians. When his coffin was to be flown from Malatya to Izmir, it would not fit into the x-ray machine in airport security. The Turkish newspapers reported that the airport security staff simply broke the handles off the coffin, a sign of their feelings. And during his funeral, one of the police officers standing guard over the funeral called one of the mourners "a son of a whore."
Last Sunday (22 April 2007) the services of many Protestant churches took place under heavy police guard. In one small congregation in one of the parts of Istanbul, two top local police officials came to enquire about their security needs and to urgently suggest the installation of an alarm system and security cameras. And because of the continuing massive threats, many pastors are now accompanied by security guards. This causes great concern for believers in Turkey. In spite of truly positive developments in the realm of freedom of religion in recent years, they now see their freedom of religion as deeply threatened.
From: Ahmet Guvener, pastor of Diyarbakir Church
30 April 2007 Diyarbakir, TurkeyWe have also understood that our society is easily given to emotion and that in such painful moments some people, whether intentionally or not, report certain events inaccurately and we have not prevented this or have not been able to do so.
When the Malatya massacre happened we, the brothers from Diyarbakir, besides those already on the scene at the time of the crime, were the first to get there. When we got to Malatya our brother Ugur was still alive, but his condition was critical. Around 5:30 PM Ugur entrusted his spirit to the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, that painful moment has slowly come into perspective for us so that now we have begun to see some things as we should. For example, it appears that those who murdered or arranged for the murder of these brothers are getting what they hoped for. By means of our reactions we may unwittingly help them. If we do not bring the facts into the light, these people will end up getting what they desired.
Brothers Tilmann, Necati, and Ugur were murdered in a bloodthirsty way. This is a fact. But there are also some inaccurate claims about this massacre and one of these is the extent of the torture. According to rumors brother Tilmann was stabbed with a knife 156 times. Brother Ugur had countless knife wounds, it has been said. These rumors, however, are unfounded. At the morgue we wanted to put brother Tilmann's body, which was in a plastic bag, into the coffin, but the officials and police did not like this. "It is sinful to do it this way, we should wrap the corpse in a shroud," they said. I accepted this idea and did what was right in their eyes. I asked them for a shroud (white cloth) and the officials moved Tilmann's body out of the plastic bag, which they placed to the side. I took advantage of this opportunity to examine brother Tilmann's body as far down as his stomach. I did not see any knife wounds. Only Tilmann's throat had been slit 8-10 centimeters and there was the stitched autopsy incision down the middle of Tilmann's chest. Unfortunately there are very different rumors circulating about brothers Tilmann and Necati. It has been said that their noses, lips, and ears were cut. These rumors do not reflect the truth. I telephoned our brother ________ in Adana because I knew he had seen brother Tilmann's body. I asked him about the knife wounds on brother Tilmann's body. E______ said to me, "Brother, I came across three or four knife blows in the chest area. I didn't see his back. On his face I can't say there were knife wounds, but scratches, maybe from hitting his face when he fell down." I knew that ______ from Ankara had seen bodies. I asked him which bodies he had seen and he said, "I saw the chest area of both Tilmann and Necati. I saw purple [from bruising] on Necati's lips and chin, but I did not see knife wounds. I looked at brother Tilmann's chest, but I did not see knife wounds." These are the statements of those you saw the bodies of these two brothers.
It is true that our brothers were knifed and tortured. But it was not to the extent of statements such as "too many wounds to count, beyond description." Apparently_______ looked more carefully than brother Ihsan and I did. ______ saw three or four knife wounds in the chest.
No one saw brother Ugur's body because on the night of the same day the murder happened, around midnight, his family took his body for burial.
I believe that brother Ugur had knife wounds similar to those of our other two brothers. It has been said that Ugur was stabbed all over his body, including his genitals. I do not believe this. You may ask why I don't believe this. I think someone stabbed this much would die on the spot. Ugur would not have been able to remain alive until 5:30 PM if he had been stabbed so much. That nothing abnormal happened to Ugur can be understood [from the fact that] exaggerated statements have been about our other two brothers, too.
Therefore we reach the following conclusion: yes, these brothers were tortured, but not to the extent that has been explained.
We are sons and daughters of the truth. Unfortunately unfounded news reports and media exaggerations have now gone out all over the world. Our brothers and sisters and people sensitive [to such news] have been misinformed. We do not intend to offend anyone. But whether the true facts are, let us report them without exaggeration. Let people everywhere think about the plain facts.
Who started these exaggerated facts [about the Malatya massacre]? We purpose two possibilities:
1) Those who perpetrated the crime planned this [the spreading of exaggerated facts] from the beginning and the murderers were simply tools for these people [who had planned to blow the murder into exaggerated proportions]. The goal of those who planned this murder and the exaggerated claims was both to frighten the Christians living in Turkey, causing them to shrink back and be timid, and to humiliate Turkey as a country that invites and causes such bloodthirsty massacre, thereby damaging Turkey's chances of entering the European Union and making matters worse in the country. Furthermore, [the planners of this massacre] wanted to give the government and our people the impression that Christians distort and exaggerate everything.
2) In every situation we see that the media either totally disregards something we say or totally exploits it. We investigated the bloody clothing that was submitted to the public as the underclothing of our brothers. None of this clothing belonged to our brothers. That clothing had been taken off the bodies of people shot to death weeks earlier. But what did the media do? They took this clothing and presented it as freshly removed from the bodies of our brothers. Is there anyone who does not yet know about the exaggerations and sometimes boldfaced lies of the media?
Therefore, brothers and sisters, if we do not explain the true facts to you our hearts will not find peace. I have written this report because I have read exaggerated or unfounded facts in news both home and abroad. The true facts are those in this report. Before sending these facts to you, as you will see below, I have requested statements from our brothers ________ and _______ I have had these statements translated from English in order to pass them on to you.
May the Lord bless you abundantly.
weekly word 7 May 2007
Breaking the Violence Cycle
by Jeff Fountain, YWAM EuropeIn the face of the torture and murder of three Christians this past month in Malatya, we must offer the Turkish people the same trust asked of them during the Reconciliation Walk, writes Matthew Hand, a specialist in Turkish history.
Hundreds of Christians visiting Turkey in the 1990’s on the Reconciliation Walk to mark the 900th anniversary of the Crusades, apologized for the atrocities committed against Muslims in the name of Christ. Hand, Lynn Green and others on the Walk asked their Turkish hosts not to brand all Christians as Crusaders or associate Christ with the violence.
So too, writes Hand, must we now accept the remarks of Turkey’s secular and religious leaders who say that this monstrous act is not real Islam, that murder cannot be sanctioned by Islam.
‘The people and leaders of Turkey have spoken clearly that the murderers betrayed Islam and dishonored Turkish Muslims,’ said Hand in this month’s Reconciliation Walk newsletter. ‘This is hopeful, since it indicates there is a growing understanding of the need to confront the myth of redemptive violence, one of the primary goals of the Reconciliation Walk.’
Unfortunately, some reports had falsely tried to describe this horrible crime as the natural result of Islamic beliefs, continued Hand. This crime should not be used by anyone to demonize the people of an entire religion, he wrote. ‘Lashing out like this may feel good for a moment, but it is short-sighted and dangerous.’
Hand writes further: ‘Precisely such demonizing had allowed the murderers to think their blood-thirst was sanctioned by Islam. At some time, someone filled the heads of these young men with stories of the great threat that Christians posed to them, how the Christians were out to destroy their nation from within. Someone told them stories of vicious crimes that Christians committed against Muslims in Bosnia, and no doubt they also invoked the Crusades.
‘Those who stigmatized these Christians by linking them to atrocities committed by Christians in the past would like nothing better than for us to follow in their footsteps by using this recent crime to stigmatize the Muslim community. Violence thrives on such reciprocal cycles - let us not become its slaves. We must do all we can to put an end to the cycle of victimization and the justification of vindictive crimes. Turning the other cheek is hard to do, but violence is only deterred as the cycle of imitation and retribution is turned back by a refusal to react in kind.
‘As the Turkish press has pointed out repeatedly this week, the Malatya murders occurred in a social environment that was open to exploitation by rabble rousers. As freedoms for Christian evangelists have increased in the past few years, it has become popular and lucrative to broadcast and print salacious reports of “missionary activity” in Turkey.
‘It is popular for the same reason, that talk of “commies” once motivated America. Today the fear of the “terrorist” is used in the same way, as a means to stir up an unspecified suspicion aimed at justifying some policy or deed. For Turkey, the fear of the “missionary” has equal emotional resonance: “missionary” feels like “terrorist.” It carries the connotation of a threat to national security and identity.
‘For this reason Christian evangelists have to be sensitive and cautious. In our efforts to preach the Gospel we must be very careful not to reinforce the suspicion that shrouds the Gospel across the whole country. This can easily happen, especially when foreign money and peculiar western cultural practices are mixed into the process of making converts.
‘At the same time the Turkish state must responsibly enforce the freedoms of religion and speech and clarify loudly that there is no threat from Christian missionaries to the security and wholeness of the Turkish state. The mythology must be confronted by the secular state. It is encouraging to see that Turkey’s civil and religious leaders have made powerful and clear statements demanding this very thing over the past weeks. Turkey’s senior imam made a national speech saying in no uncertain terms that Christians must be free to evangelize in peace.
‘One other word about Turkish history: Newly secular Turkey was equally guarded towards ascendant Islam. In this nation one was first a Turk then a Muslim, not a Muslim who happened to be a Turk. Consequently, the state banned the Islamic tarikats, or brotherhoods, and put all religious education and institutions firmly under the authority of the secular state. Turkey hanged its Prime Minister in the 1950’s because he was seen to be too fond of Islam. It is little known that the most heavily prosecuted - many would say oppressed -religious group in Turkey, has been Muslims who operated outside the control of the state.
‘Today, we can add another facet to the violence inducing conflation of nation and faith. There is now a perception in Turkey that US foreign policy is influenced by Christian end-times beliefs. President Bush responded to 9/11 by invoking the word Crusade. No amount of damage control after this incredible gaffe will erase the view that the (Bush) administration agrees with Bin Laden that the “war on terror” is a fight between the existential Islamic and Judeo-Christian civilizations. Christian influence on foreign and military policy (is) a popular topic in Turkey. Turks previously feared that Christian missionaries were a threat, but they now suspect that the United States military is also in on the fight for their souls.
‘The murder of the Christians in Malatya is not a Muslim crime. Primarily, it is the crime of the young men themselves. There is nothing that can justify such brutality. Meanwhile, the rest of us should repent of our complacency. We should work hard for understanding and reconciliation. We must dispel the poison of alienation. We urge you to join us in doing everything within your power to speak this complex truth in the face of deceptively simplistic mythologies.’For full text, see: www.recwalk.net